© Baehr, 2015
May the Fourth Be With You!
Celebrate America with These Patriotic, Pro-American Movies
Here’s a good way to instill in your children patriotism and a love of America: Rent a patriotic movie. The only trouble is that these days, those movies are few and far between.
Here are “Ted’s Picks” for patriotic, pro-American movies with faith and values, many of which you can watch with your whole family this holiday and some that require extreme caution even for older teenagers and adults because of some rough content.
The list is divided into Classics and Recent Movies.
1. SERGEANT YORK: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 – 1941: Based on the diary of Alvin York, the most decorated soldier in World War I, this moving story tells about a willful man, played by Oscar winner Gary Cooper, who comes to Jesus Christ and comes to terms with war. After his conversion, Alvin is deeply troubled about fighting in the war because he cannot reconcile the Bible’s teaching against killing with participating in a war to defend his country. Before making his final decision about filing for conscientious objector status, Alvin spends time reading the Bible and being alone with God on the mountain. There it becomes clear what God wants him to do. Sensitively directed by the quintessential masculine director, Howard Hawks, SERGEANT YORK is a great American movie; it’s also a great Christian movie.
2. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +3 – 1939: Another Frank Capra classic starring Jimmy Stewart, this movie demonstrates that the little guy can stand up to big government. A watershed movie for the common man, it serves as an example that Big Government will not crush the human spirit. It continues to sound a call for ethics, morality and integrity in our highest offices.
3. DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +3 – 1939: Action, drama, sentiment, humor deftly woven into the best Christian movie ever made so far about America’s War for Independence. It also is a wonderful portrayal of the American pioneer spirit. John Ford creates another masterpiece here, capturing the flavor of Colonial life in this vigorous, courageous story of settlers defending their liberty in upstate N. Y. during the Revolutionary War.
4. SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +1 – 1942: When a Hollywood movie director goes searching for “real life,” he finds out that people need laughter and humor to lift up their spirits. Tired of making fluff, the director decides to do a serious movie, and to research it, he sets out with 10¢ in his pocket to experience life. During his journey he learns much about himself, and society, falls in love and arrives at an epiphany in a full gospel chapel. This is one of the best movies ever produced in Hollywood. Directed by the gifted screenwriter/director Preston Sturges, it has a near perfect balance of humor and pathos.
5. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 – 1942: This is a great family movie about the patriotic career of Broadway star and composer George M. Cohen, who is played brilliantly by James Cagney in one of the greatest performances ever captured on celluloid. We defy any viewer to hold back a tear when Cohen hears soldiers singing his World War I hit “Over There” while marching off to war to fight Hitler in World War II. Cagney’s unique interpretation of dance, which he showed off to great effect in 1933’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE, is an awesome joy to behold.
6. MEET JOHN DOE: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 1941: Another Frank Capra classic, MEET JOHN DOE is a celebration of American populism and a refutation of fascism, seen from a very strong Christian perspective promoting the Spirit of Christmas and the Second Great Commandment, “Love thy neighbor.” In perhaps his best performance apart from SERGEANT YORK and HIGH NOON, Gary Cooper gives a wonderful patriotic speech based on that biblical, moral principle in the big turning point in the movie’s first act. And, the great character actor, James Gleason, follows it up with another patriotic speech in the third act about the Founding Fathers being “lighthouses” for the whole world to admire. Tying everything up with a beautiful bow is Barbara Stanwyck’s heartbreaking performance as the story’s catalyst, who tells a despondent, suicidal Gary Cooper at the end of the movie that he doesn’t need to die for the world because “someone already did that” 2000 years ago. Arrayed against these heroic characters is a fascist cabal of Big Labor and Big Government leaders led by a Big Journalism leader, and would-be dictator, played by Edward Arnold in one of the very best villain roles in movie history.
Honorable mentions: AIR FORCE (1943), THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949), SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), BATTLEGROUND (1949), THE PURPLE HEART (1944), HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (1944), THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946), MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), DESPERATE JOURNEY (1944), THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI (1954), THE ALAMO (1960), THE LONGEST DAY (1962), PATTON (1970), THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1939).
1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 2014: In CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, a mysterious assassin called “the Winter Soldier” critically wounds Nick Fury, Captain America’s boss at SHIELD. Fury hands Captain America a flash drive showing SHIELD is compromised. “Don’t trust anyone,” Fury tells Cap before lapsing into a coma. Using the flash drive, Cap learns a secret cabal has infiltrated SHIELD. They also control the Winter Soldier. Ultimately, they plan to use newly developed SHIELD technology to rule the world. Now, Captain America and the two friends he trusts must avoid not only the Winter Soldier, but all of SHIELD, so they can stop this evil plot. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is a terrific action movie. It hits all the right plot points and adds some nifty twists. Once again, Chris Evans does a superb job as the iconic hero. The supporting players are also excellent. Happily, THE WINTER SOLIDER has a strong moral, patriotic worldview. Captain America and his friends are working to protect both American liberty and world freedom. THE WINTER SOLDIER warrants caution, however, for intense action violence and brief foul language.
2. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 2006: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS is the inspiring true-life story of Chris Gardner. Chris, played with brilliant passion by Will Smith, is a man struggling to make ends meet in the 1980s. One day, a chance encounter sets Chris in motion to change his life for both he and his son. Chris takes a stressful internship at a highly competitive stock brokerage. Chris works hard with the belief that it will pay off. His wife buckles under the pressures, however, and leaves the family. Soon, father and son find themselves homeless. They spend their nights sleeping in shelters, busses and, at the low point, a public restroom. Through it all, the relationship between father and son is strengthened, sweetened and, even in the middle of dire circumstances, full of love and trust. Movies like PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS don’t come along very often. The movie not only shows it’s possible to achieve the American Dream through hard work. It also shows we can build strong families through commitment, love and trust, regardless of the circumstances. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS is one of the most inspirational, quintessentially American movies ever made.
3. WE WERE SOLDIERS Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -2 2002: WE WERE SOLDIERS is a true story starring Mel Gibson as Col. Hal Moore, who led the first American helicopter troops into battle against the Communist North Vietnamese in 1965. Despite some minor flaws and very strong, bloody combat scenes laced with some strong profanities, WE WERE SOLDIERS delivers a riveting drama with strong appeals to God in the Name of the Holy Christian Trinity.
4. THE PATRIOT Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -2 2000: THE PATRIOT stars Mel Gibson as a family man named Benjamin Mark, who wrestles with his desire for revenge and the just cause of the American War for Independence in the late 1700s. The cruel British Colonel Tavington, played impeccably by Jason Isaacs, shoots Ben’s 15-year-old son, Thomas, as Ben’s oldest son, Gabriel, is led away captive. Thus, Ben’s fury is unleashed, and taking his two youngest boys, he goes into the woods to fight a guerilla war, slaughtering the British and rescuing Gabriel. Ben continues to wrestle with his sinful desire for vengeance and the worthiness of the Revolutionary cause. Eventually, he sees that he needs to stay the course, and he rejects vengeance to take up the flag. The violent battle scenes may concern older moviegoers, while younger moviegoers might chafe at the soul-searching, but the heart of this movie is faith. Prayer runs throughout the film, and the Cross of Jesus Christ is lifted up. THE PATRIOT is also a terrific, engrossing movie. One can only hope that this soul searching and pain will lead many to search for the God to whom Ben prays so often in this story.
5. GETTYSBURG: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 1993: Ron Maxwell’s epic film GETTYSBURG, based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE KILLER ANGELS, dramatically depicts the three most courageous days in American history when North and South were arrayed against each other in the decisive battle fought on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania plains. The scenes re-enacting Pickett’s charge are believed to be the largest period scale sequences filmed in North America since D.W. Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION. The movie overflows with positive references to God and prayer. Aside from some of the curses used by the soldiers, GETTYSBURG is a magnificent movie that every American should see.
6. THE ROCKETEER: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +2 1991: Set just before World War II, THE ROCKETEER is one of the most entertaining comic book movies. It’s also one of the most Pro-American, patriotic movies made in recent years. In the story, a young pilot discovers the prototype of a jetpack. With help from his mechanic mentor, he fixes the jetpack and makes it even better. However, some German spies are trying to steal the jetpack, so he has to stop them from getting it and expose the spy ring. It all leads to a rousing, patriotic ending that’s one of the best, most exciting, most heroic third finishes ever created for an American movie. THE ROCKETEER is just pure fun all the way.
7. PLACES IN THE HEART: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +3 1984: Set during the Great Depression, PLACES IN THE HEART tells the story of Edna Spalding, played by Oscar® winner Sally Field, a Southern widow who struggles with her children to take care of the family farm, but gets help from a disparate group of strangers, who become fast friends. PLACES IN THE HEART is a fabulous piece of Americana that clearly shows faith in Jesus Christ overcomes all obstacles − even death.
8. UNBROKEN: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 2014: UNBROKEN is an immensely powerful biographical movie about the life of Louis Zamperini, who became a famous evangelist. The son of Italian immigrants, Louie goes from being a mischievous young boy to an Olympic runner at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. When World War II begins, Louie joins the Air Force, but a tragic malfunction causes his plane to crash one day. Only Louie and two men survive. Stranded for weeks on a raft, Louie and the other men strive to survive, but bad goes to worse when they’re taken by the Japanese army as prisoners of war. Through extreme hardships, Louie refuses to give up. UNBROKEN is a worthy, well-directed adaptation of the riveting biography by Laura Hillenbrand, but it doesn’t cover Louie’s actual Christian conversion after the war. It’s still an inspiring story about fighting for liberty amid injustice, retaining one’s values despite intense persecution, persevering when all is lost, and holding onto hope when all hope seems gone. Also, the movie extols Christian prayer and loving your enemy. UNBROKEN warrants extreme caution due to some intense violence and foul language.
9. ACT OF VALOR: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -2 2012: ACT OF VALOR is a riveting, explosive war movie. Real Navy Seals play the key roles. Two Seal Team 7 leaders send their team to Latin America. The mission is to rescue a female CIA agent captured by a drug lord, in cahoots with a Muslim terrorist. The agent has information confirming the link. An intense firefight occurs at the drug lord’s secret jungle compound. The team barely gets away, though one soldiers loses an eye. The drug lord is connected to a Russian arms dealer. The dealer is childhood friends with the terrorist planning the attack on America. Can the Seals get to the terrorist and his gang before they enter the U.S.? ACT OF VALOR sizzles with action. The action scenes are among the best, most realistic ones ever filmed. The movie isn’t all about the action, however. It’s also a heartfelt, patriotic parable about the emotional toll defending one’s country can take on soldiers and their families. That said, the war violence is very strong, with bloody scenes and pointblank shootings. There’s also plenty of strong foul language. ACT OF VALOR is designed for mature adults.
Honorable mentions: THE BLIND SIDE (2009), THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), PLACES IN THE HEART (1984), A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (1985), NATIONAL TREASURE (2004), IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2007), THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (2007), HBO’s 2008 miniseries JOHN ADAMS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), TAKING CHANCE (2009), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011).
Note: Some of these recent movies contain strong subject matter, so caution or even extreme caution is warranted, even for older teenagers and adults.
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