Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Favorite Films: Patriotic Films

With the Fourth of July upon us, it's time to explore patriotic films! Go America!

1. Gettysburg (1993): The ultimate Civil War film in the sense of being both about the pivotal battle in the war, but also letting each side explain why they fought and what they were fighting for. It also highlights the bravery and sacrifice of the average men who have risen up to defend America in her various hours of need. This film, in many ways, lays out the competing views of what America is about.

2. How The West Was Won (1962): Call this, "How America Was Made," this film highlights the growth of America from a small group of ambitious eastern states to the country that would conquer a continent to the industrial powerhouse of today. Along the way, you meet idealists, opportunists, crooks, heroes, and people just looking for a better life. What I love about this film is how it focuses on the common man as the builder of America rather than showing America as a puzzle constructed by the rich and famous.

3. National Treasure (2004): This movie should have been Indiana Jones 4: America's Masonic History, but it wasn't. What it was instead is a film that takes a fascinating tour of the lesser known parts of American history and weaves them all together into a compelling story told by characters who love this country: the historian determined to prove his family were not traitors, the immigrant who rose to run the Smithsonian, and the watchful patriot who protects America. You can't watch this without feeling love for our country.

4. The Longest Day (1962): Focusing on D-Day, this is one of the better war films. What this film does so well is that it captures the can-do determination of every strata of American society as we prepare to put an end to Hitler's evil empire. These aren't braggarts, pessimists, cynics or cowards... they are what we have come to expect when Americans call themselves to duty.

5. Apollo 13 (1995): Not only does this film highlight the American achievement of lunar landings, something no one else has matched yet, but it shows the amazing creativity of Americans when squeezed into a corner and given only a few hours to save the lives of men we care about even if we've never met them. That ingenuity and that dedication without self-interest are cornerstones of what make Americans exceptional.

6. Sergeant York (1941): In some ways, this film could be dismissed as presenting an old fashioned view of Americans -- isolationist/live and let live, self-effacing, simple, and dedicated. Those aren't values that modern television worships. Yet, these values are on display every day all around us if you just stop to look. Sergeant York really does embody something deep within the American soul.

7. To Have And Have Not (1944): The reluctant hero looms large in this one. Bogart is the typical American in attitude and persona. He doesn't have the snazzy uniform of the Nazis. He doesn't have the backing of authority like the French who run the island. He's dismissed by the world as self-interested. But we know better. Bogart is a guy with a strong moral code who cannot stand by and let evil triumph over good, and he's willing to risk his own life to defend his beliefs even though no one would blame him for looking the other way.

8. Battle: Los Angeles (2011): More than any other war film, this one lays out why Americans stand and fight. We fight to protect our friends, our family, our homes and our country, and we know why we fight when we do. Deeply un-cynical, this film stands firmly on the side of the middle-American so many elitists simply cannot understand. These people love this country and they fight for each other, and to them, race and gender are meaningless, as all that matters is the content of a man's character.



Kit said...

I've seen 1, 3, 4, 5, and 8. All good picks.

I would add the excellent Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, You said something interesting the other day about patriotism not being a military issue. Care to expand upon that?

shawn said...

Stripes- Bill Murray gives one heck of a pro-America speech to inspire the troops.

Tennessee Jed said...

I would say Gettysburg is my favorite. Stars and Stripes Forever with Clifton We, 1776 the musical is in there. More recently Lone Survivor and Act of Valor

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Outstanding selection, Andrew,
I second Lone Survivor as another top notch, patriotic film.
We Were Soldiers is my favorite vietnam war film and Tell It To The Marines impressed me, and I'm not much of a silent film fan.

Tennessee Jed said...

forgot to mention Yankee Doodle Dandy with Cagney

Kenn Christenson said...

As irreverent as "The Right Stuff" is, in some respects, I think it really captures that can-do American spirit.

Tennessee Jed said...

I agree Kenn. It truly does. "who is the best pilot you ever saw?" ... "you are looking at him!" :)

Anonymous said...

My two films were mentioned already: Yankee Doodle Dandee and The Right Stuff.

Yankee is IMHO a little corny but in the best possible way, and it might be the least cynical movie ever made. (Only the brief black face number makes me cringe). Cagney's dance down the staircase gets me every time.

The Right Stuff proves you can do patriotic and tough but with the occasional wink and nudge. :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

Ben - I immensely liked "We Were Soldiers." I read the book, and the film gets most of the spirit of it quite well. Was having Mel lead the charge over the top? Sure, but it was important to remember how brave our soldiers were. Given an era where Jane Fonda was hailed, soldiers spit on, etc. it is the only Vietnam film that treats our soldiers with dignity. Put differently, I don't mind films from the point of view that war is hell, and we have fought several where it is hard to say the loss of life was worth it. But we must never, ever, blame the soldiers.

KRS said...

Gettysburg is my #1 military movie. One of the interesting aspects of Gettysburg and the book it is based on, The Killer Angels, is that it highlights how the lower ranking commanders were so essential to to the Union victory: Buford destroying his command to keep the Confederates from the high ground, Chamberlain, out of ammo and holding the flank, launching a bayonet charge to route a much larger enemy. By contrast, Lee made a torrent of mistakes throughout the battle and never seemed to notice the fact that, with all seven corps of the Army of the Potomac in front of him, there was no one left behind him to defend Washington. Only Longstreet can see what's coming and he fights nobly while enduring the grief of what he sees coming.

For a non-war entry, I propose The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) with Debbie Reynolds in the title role. It's got a great rags to riches style and having a female protagonist adds emphasis to the "git 'er done" American ethic. It's got just enough cheese for taste and Debbie Reynolds was made for the role.

PikeBishop said...

1. Gettysburg
2. We Were Soldiers
3. The Patriot (despite its nods to PC, like Martin not owning slaves)
4. Glory (just for Morgan Freeman's speech after slapping Denzel, "Ante up and kick in like men.....Like Men!")
5. Apollo 13
6. Independence Day (Yep. Hey who did they expect to save humanity? The Belgians?)
7. The Last of the Mohicans (yeah, French and Indian War, but its about freedom and loyalty to family and tribe)
8. Memphis Belle (do your duty, do the right thing and come back home alive)
9. The Right Stuff
10. Have to agree with "Stripes." (But we're American soldiers and we've been kicking ass for 200 years. We're 10-1!)

KRS said...

Here's two I hadn't thought of earlier, Miracle (2004) and The Rookie (2002).

Miracle tells the story of the US Olympic Hockey team as it rose to meet and defeat the "invincible" Russian hockey team. If you were an adult in 1980, you remember this event even if it was the only hockey game you have ever watched in your life. The Olympics of the Cold War era were the only place the US and USSR could duke it out face-to-face. The USSR created Olympic mills of professional athletes, cheated and complained to get their medals. Against them, the US fielded volunteer amateur athletes. So we all watched the Olympics and when a Yankee beat the Bear, it was a very big deal. The story of putting this team together, getting them to overcome personal and group failings, turning into a fomidible powerhouse in time to take the ice against America's nemesis - it defines awesome.

The Rookie is a much more personal tale, but it shows how losers can become winners, demonstrates fundamental lessons of leadership and proves that America is the land of second chances. The fact that it's a baseball movie is all gravy. There is some conflict between the protagonist and his dad, but the manner in which they are reconciled is masculine and concise.

Interesting that both my picks are sports movies based on true events.

Tennessee Jed said...

KRS - you might be interested in my review of Gettysburg on this site

Kit said...


Patriotism is love of one's country. Support for one's country's military falls under that but it should not be the dominating idea behind it.

Yes, supporting the military is important but they by themselves are not what makes America exceptional. It is our individual drive, our ability of absorb various peoples, sense of fair play, etc.

In fact, to celebrate only the military to the exclusion of everything else in America is, in its own way, denigrating the sacrifice of the many men and women who have served and died defending our country and its values.

Soldiers in the Wehrmacht were brave, soldiers in the Japanese Imperial Army were brave. There were even brave SS soldiers. But look at what they fought for and compare that to what the GIs fought for. 

Without the ideals of the American people, the soldiers are just another military. In fact, it is those ideals that likely enable the US military to work as well as it does. 

Patriotism means loving your country, its laws, its values, as well as the military that defends and protects it.

KRS said...

TenneseeJed - Thanks - that was a solid review of Gettysburg. I confess Martin Sheen is a little off-putting to me because of his politics, but the man portrays Lee well. Even the facial expression when he tells Longstreet, "they will break in the center," suggests that something has possessed the man. Historians will never tire of wondering what Lee was thinking when he ordered that attack.

Civil War battles, and the histories describing them, are incredibly complex and difficult to mentally digest. The great thing about Shaara's book, which this film duplicates, is that it helps the audience understand. He successfully made a narrative of the history and influenced writers after him. In Gettysburg, you can see the value of the ground and how being at the top of the slope, however slight, rather than at the bottom, can make all the difference. Also, you get an appreciate of "that small, deadly space" where battles are decided, how armies smash into each other like waves and, like waves, just as quickly vanish. What a horrific way to fight a war.

Standing by the monument to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top always moves me. It is such a small, exposed place, so far down from the top. How did they hold it?

Tennessee Jed said...

I actually respect Martin Sheen. He has been up front about his beliefs since he was young, but I don't recall him being overly obnoxious about it, particularly back then. Lee's men had always prevailed in the past. Probably easier for us to see that it was highly unlikely to succeed in hindsight. If the troops at Culp's Hill had fared better. So many "ifs".

I am currently reading son Jeff's latest "The Smoke at Dawn" about Chattanooga, the third in his series dealing with the war in the west. He does as good a job as his dad.

As far as the 20th Maine position, it really is down the hill and almost around the back relative to Devil's Den. It was pretty tough coming up the hill, too and those Carolina boys had really been on the move, but in the end, a very close run thing.

KRS said...

Two things stand out to me on this thread: (1) the prevalence of war movies and (2) the low number of comments. Given the interests we share, both observations strike me as a little odd.

Not a criticism, just not what I would have imagined.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, We are in the summer doldrums. Things slow down dramatically throughout the summer and people comment less.

In terms of the military stuff, I think military films are patriotic when they show people of all different walks of life coming together to defend the things have have meaning to Americans, i.e. each other. One thing I love about Battle Los Angeles is that they know why they are fighting, they give themselves selflessly for people they don't even know, and even the civilians give all to help the people around them. That is the America I know. That is the America that makes me proud. It's not the butt kicking or the "coolness" of war films that make them patriotic, it's the little moments that show Americans at their finest.

BTW, Miracle is an excellent addition to the list! That was one of our proudest moments as a country and deservedly so.

What other non-war films do people see as patriotic?

Unknown said...

Apollo 13 is fantastic, and it is nice to see National Treasure lauded, although I have to admit that I have trouble remembering which bits are in the original and which are in the sequel. Who is the Smithsonian immigrant director?

Some other personal favorites that might be regarded as patriotic...

Clear and Present Danger. A nice angle on patriotism, which definitely does not blame the soldiers for their misguided mission. Harrison Ford is also stirringly patriotic in Air Force One.

Along similar lines... A Few Good Men and (heck, why not) Team America, World Police

It's a Wonderful Life. America ideals built by the common man.

Casablanca. Another classic.

Die Hard. The original and best.

Anonymous said...

If we're mentioning Clear and Present Danger and Air Force One, then we also need to mention The Hunt for Red October and Executive Decision.

"I would like to live in Montana." :-)

KRS said...

This is way late - I so wish I had thought of this earlier. So now, this is just a memo to the record, the most patriotic movie of all time:

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

We all know this movie, so no summary needed. It is not brilliantly written, scored or filmed and it will not be remembered as iconic, possibly not even a classic. It does not have the vibe to be a true cult classic.

But, as a product of its time, it a patriotic punch in the gut of Government overreach and nanny-statism.

It was released just four years after Congress imposses the 55 mph speed limit across the country - a law that instantaneously created a booming market for CB radios and dashboard radar detectors as nearly all of America abandoned respect for the law in the face of an irrational law than inconvenienced us.

It was a law aimed directly at that glowing symbol of American indepence of power, prestige and freedom that sat in everyone's driveway. It shaved 15 mph off the speed limit for the sake of fuel economy and safety. It changed the police officer from a symbol of security, to an advesary who'll pick your pocket for 150 bucks while on your way to the family picnic.

Smokey and the Bandit was America flipping the bird to the Government.

Back in the day, you couldn't sell a brand of beer in every state. Coors generally wasn't legally sold east of the Mississppi, or therabouts. So in our tale, the mission is to commit felony transportation of alcohol across state lines, which is accomplished by breaking and entering, temporary theft (Little Enos is good for it), and then violating the speed limits of several states in order to get the beer to the barbeque on time, all the while pursued by the most excellent and offensive comedic caricature of a southern sheriff ever put on film. And these guys are the heros.

I was in a packed movie theater in Atlanta GA when the film came out. There was cheering every time a police car bit the dust and the end credits got a standing ovation.

The film spoke to the individualism of Americans in a deeply personal way. It mocked authority that wrapped itself around petty crusades. But it is also contemptuous of those who are rebels without a good cause, as evidenced by Cledus driving his big rig over the row of parked Harleys owned by the motorcycle gang.

Our heros are good-natured, somewhat unserious, a little too reckless and along the way, they begin to pick up allies who want a role, however small, in the legend they're writing.

And, they get away with it.

Best patriotic movie ever. Note to Bandit: NYC needs Big Gulps.

Independence rules, scolds drool.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, Good call. Not only do I agree completely, but I would add this this film loves America and loves Americans. Other than the handful of abusive types (like the Sheriff and the Enus brothers) everyone in this movie is a happy, productive and a positive image. Think about how rare that is these days!

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I LOVE the idea of the Bandit getting Big Gulps to NYC!

PikeBishop said...

Agreed with "Smokey" KRS. There was a nice multipart tribute to that film on the old "Big Hollywood" which is still available in the archives. If you have not done so, you should check it out. It covers a lot of the post-Watergate, distrust of government pessimism that you mention. What I find interesting about the tone of the movie is that Jimmy CArter had only been president a few months, when it came out. Seems like this film was a deeper reflection of the Carter malaise, but oh well.

KRS said...

Pike - Those BH articles were very interesting - thanks!

I came of age in those years and , to be fair to Carter, I can tell you the malaise predated him. Gerald Ford, while generally a better president than credited, tried an ultimately failed initiative called "Whip Inflation Now" and passed out "WIN" buttons - in 1974. The Arab oil Embargo hit us the year before, along with a stock market crash. There were price controls and gas shortages (gas prices per gallon skyrocketed to 65 cents and people started stealing it!). CAFE was enacted in 1975 and Detroit started building low quality econoboxes. Pollution was an everyday part of life - the EPA, born in 1970,was just getting its legs under it. We had just watched Saigon fall two years before Smokey hit the screens.

The country was in poor shape, our pride was taking multiple hits at home and abroad and everybody was bitching. Nixon, Ford (and Carter) all tried to micromanage fixes, rather than let the private initiative address matters. This is what Carter stepped into, and he just happened to be the wrong man for the job, making everything, much, much worse.

Andrew - there has got to be a way to remake this movie for our times, but who would direct? Who'd be cast?

Anonymous said...

I second Team America: World Police!

I would also like to add Toy Story 3, for Barbie's line:

"Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from threat of force!"

And that, my friends, is how you slip conservative values into popular culture.

(First and only time I liked Barbie.)

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