Six patriotic movies for Independence Day

A Fourth of July observance usually features cookouts and fireworks, but for a change of pace this year why not pay tribute to the nation’s birthday with these cinematic celebrations of patriotism, from our early days as a nation through modern times:

1776 (1972)
William Daniels, Howard da Silva and Ken Howard star as founding fathers John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, in this rousing if quaint musical evocation of the birth of American ideals. Members of the Continental Congress bicker and bloviate in colonial Philadelphia as Jefferson struggles to craft the bold language of the Declaration of Independence. The film deftly makes these historical figures into real human beings with all their virtues and faults.

Glory (1989)
The gripping story of America’s first all-black volunteer company features strong performances from Oscar winner Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick as their commander. The story focuses too much on the tribulations of the white leader rather than the greater challenge of being an African-American soldier in a deeply divided country, but director Edward Zwick effectively dramatizes the brutality of that war for all involved.

Lincoln (2012)
Steven Spielberg’s powerful biography of Abraham Lincoln is brought to life through the immersive performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president of the United States. The film focuses on just a few months at the end of the Civil War as Lincoln maneuvered to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Amid the hurly burly of Washington politics, it captures both Lincoln’s political prowess and his humanity.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
James Stewart, at his earnest best in this folksy political drama, plays Jefferson Smith, a naïve idealist who gets appointed to an open Senate seat and foolishly believes he’s been sent to Washington D. C. to do some good. He soon faces a morass of apathy, corruption, and duplicity, even from leaders he once admired. The renowned filibuster scene caps director Frank Capra’s unabashedly sentimental and yet still inspirational masterpiece.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Long before we had the term post-traumatic stress disorder, we called soldiers’ difficult struggles to re-engage with civilian life by another term: shell shock. William Wyler’s powerful account of World War II veterans returning home to very different lives reflected a painful reality across the country in 1946. The film’s resonance produced seven Oscars, including Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actor for Harold Russell, a real-life Army vet who had lost both hands in a training accident.

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Oliver Stone found a perfect vehicle for his anti-establishment viewpoint in this biographical movie inspired by the life of Ronald Kovic. Paralyzed during his service in Vietnam, Kovic alchemizes his unquestioning patriotism into ardent anti-war and human rights activism once he returns to the U.S. Convincingly played by Tom Cruise, Kovic is a complex and intriguing character, both right and self-righteous. Stone won an Academy Award for direction.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.