Top Ten Patriotic Movies For the Fourth of July Weekend

For those of you who want some patriotic movies to watch over the long  Fourth of July weekend, here are some suggestions for viewing.  Feel free to suggest additional movies in the comboxes.

10. National Treasure (2004)-Sure it’s cursed with a ridiculous plot involving the masons and a treasure, it is still a lot of fun and calls us back to the foundation document, the Declaration of Independence, that is the cornerstone of our Republic.

9. Hamburger Hill (1987)-Content advisory: very, very strong language in the above video clip.  All the Vietnam veterans I’ve mentioned it to have nothing but praise for this film which depicts the assault on Hill 937 by elements of the 101rst Division, May 10-20, 1969.  It is a fitting tribute to the valor of the American troops who served their country in an unpopular war a great deal better than their country served them.

8.    Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)-James Cagney in perhaps the greatest film bio of them all, a salute to George M. Cohan, the legendary composer, playwright and patriot.

7.      Saving Lincoln (2013)-  Overshadowed by the Lincoln film of 2012, this rendition of Lincoln’s years as President is first rate.

The human cost of the War is always at the core of the film, as we see in the delivery of the Gettysburg Address where some of the members of the crowd hearing Lincoln are holding pictures of soldier relatives who have died.

Lincoln in the film comes to believe that he will die in office and accepts his fate, hoping that God will spare him until his work is accomplished.

6.    Gettysburg (1993)-The movie that I think comes the closest to conveying to us the passions of the Civil War.  You really can’t understand America unless you understand the Civil War.  As Shelby Foote, one of the greatest historians of the war, said:  “Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.”

5.    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)This movie came out at a time when fascism and communism seemed to be the wave of the future.  In the face of that dark reality, Mr. Smith is a brilliant paean to American democracy, and the idealism and devotion to the principles of the Founding Fathers that constantly battles against political corruption.

4.    Glory (1989)-The tale of the 54th Massachusetts in the Civil War, and a long overdue salute to the black troops who fought for the Union.  A superb film in every regard, and a model of  how history should be recreated on film.

3.     Lincoln (2012)-Daniel Day-Lewis is simply magnificent in the role of Lincoln. He captures well both Lincoln’s role as a far-seeing visionary and a master of mundane nuts and bolts politics.  Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as he was: a very humane man waging the bloodiest war in our nation’s history and trying to lance the boil of slavery that had poisoned and embittered American life for a quarter of a millennium. He conveys well the human toll that all this imposed upon Lincoln.

The film takes place near the end of the War. Lincoln has been reelected and is now attempting to have Congress pass the Thirteenth Amendment. Lincoln is concerned that if the War ends before the Amendment is passed through Congress, the impetus behind it will fade away since it will no longer be regarded as an essential war measure. He is worried that his Emancipation Proclamation, taken as a war measure, might not hold up in peace time, once the former Confederate States are back in the Union, with laws still allowing slavery on their books. The film centers on his efforts to convince enough Democrat Congressmen, by fair means and by foul, to vote for the Amendment.

2.  Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)-Raymond Massey gives the performance of a life time as the greatest President this nation has ever had, save, perhaps, for George Washington.

1. 1776  (1972)-Singing and dancing Founding Fathers!  What’s not to love?  The film does a good job of depicting what a leap of faith the Declaration of Independence was.  For all the Founding Fathers knew, they could have all ended up dangling from British nooses, and cursed by their posterity.  They banished their fears and went boldly forward with their revolution, the most successful revolution in history, and which is still underway.

Honorable Mentions:

Independence Day (1996)-Invading aliens run into the buzzsaw of American know how and grit.  The speech from the film has received an updating for 2021.

Red Dawn (1984)-An alternate history depiction of high schoolers taking up arms in the aftermath of a Soviet invasion, it seems over the top, until I recall the ages of partisans who fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)-An English butler reminds Americans of one of the high points of their history.

Sergeant York (1941)-A masterful look at both religion and patriotism.

Meet John Doe (1941)-Frank Capra’s flawed masterpiece, it evinces his faith in American democracy at a time when it was under threat.

They Were Expendable (1945)-John Ford’s salute to the American PT boat sailors in the Philippines  who fought to buy us time in the Pacific.

Rocky (1976)-A good film to come out during the American bicentennial, it evinces two great American characteristics:  Optimism and a fondness for underdogs.

The Wind and the Lion (1975)-Brian Keith captures perfectly Theodore Roosevelt, the man who in most ways represented the best in the American spirit.

Give Me Liberty (1936)-A fine salute to Patrick Henry, perhaps the most eloquent American who ever lived.

One, Two, Three (1961)-Billy Wilder’s hilarious Cold War spoof which showed why the Soviets were going to ultimately lose their contest with the US.

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)-John Ford’s celebration of young Mr. Lincoln and a young America.

The Lost Battalion (2001)-Chronicles the story of Maj. Charles W. Whittlesey and his men who held out from October 2-October8, 1918, completely surrounded, until they were relieved by American forces.  I have always treasured this bit of dialogue from the film:

Maj. Prinz: You Americans, you always have so much of everything. No matter. Eventually you have to surrender.

Lt. Leak: I don’t think so.

Maj. Prinz: Are you officers so callous? You’re surrounded. You have no chance of relief. Every night you send out patrols, and every night we kill them. We can hear the cries of your wounded Lieutenant. There is no dishonor in surrender.

Lt. Leak: Maybe for you, but my guys are different.

Maj. Prinz: What do you mean?

Lt. Leak: What you’re up against Major, is a bunch of Mick, Pollack, Dago, and Jew boy gangsters from New York City. They’ll never surrender. Never.

The Red Badge of Courage, (1951)-I am struck by what a forgotten masterpiece it is.  Filmed in stark black and white, the film has almost a documentary feel to it, as if a World War II era newsreel camera had magically transplanted itself to the Civil War.  The combat scenes are highly realistic depictions of Civil War combat, and the actors speak and act like Civil War soldiers and not like 1951 actors dressed up in Civil War costumes.

As one critic said at the time, watching the film is like watching a Matthew Brady photograph of the Civil War come to life.

It was a stroke of genius for director John Huston to have as star of his film Audie Murphy, as the youth who, in Stephen Crane’s unforgettable novel, has his first taste of combat in the Civil War.  Murphy looked like a typical Hollywood “pretty boy” but he was anything but.  From a family of 12 in Texas, Murphy had dropped out of school in the fifth grade to support his family after his father ran off.    His mother died in 1941.  In 1942 he enlisted in the Army at 16, lying about his birthday, partially to support his family and partially because he dreamed of a military career.  By the end of the war, before his 19th birthday, he was a second lieutenant and had earned in hellish combat a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, a French Legion of Honor, a French Croix de Guerre, a Belgian Croix de Guerre, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.  He was the most decorated soldier of the US Army in World War 2.

Murphy’s co-star in the film was also an Army combat veteran, Bill Mauldin, the famed cartoonist who drew the Willie and Joe cartoons in Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper, during World War II.

The film is absolutely stunning to watch, especially when we recall that Huston was forced to cut the film to 70 minutes and to add a narration, both decisions taken over his bitter protests.   The making of the film, and the conflicts that ensued, are given masterly treatment in Lillian Ross’ book on the making of the film, Picture (1952).  The film was a box office failure, but critics hailed it.  I think audiences are often right and critics usually wrong, but in this case I side with the critics.

The Patriot (2001)-There is a lot wrong historically with Mel Gibson’s Revolutionary War opus, but he captures well the war to the knife fighting in the Southern theater of the War and the desperate courage of Patriot partisans who turned the tide.

The Rough Riders (1997)-  A superb recreation of the time and the place, the film is a fitting tribute to the valor of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.  Tom Berenger gives an uncannily on target performance as Theodore Roosevelt.  The miniseries may be viewed on YouTube.

 George Washington miniseries (1984) (1985) Barry Bostwick as George Washington?  Patty Duke as Martha Washington?  Sounds like history as told by Mad magazine?  That is what I thought initially back in the Eighties, and I was very happy to be proven totally wrong.  Bostwick and Duke are completely believable in their roles.  The film, originally two separate miniseries, covers the life of Washington from his early twenties to the completion of his second term as President.  I found every second riveting, especially the section on the American Revolution which was an incredibly accurate depiction of why we would have lost that war but for Washington and a hard-core of Continental troops.  It is a crime that this masterpiece still has not been released on DVD.  (However, hint, hint, if you peruse YouTube you should be able to find the whole thing!)

John Adams– (2008) Paul Giamatti gives an astoundingly good performance as John Adams in this film which covers the span of Adam’s life from 1770, when he courageously risked his career by defending the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston “Massacre”, to his death, along with Thomas Jefferson, on July 4, 1826.  Everything about this effort is superb:  the acting, the script, the musical score, the faithfulness to the historical record.  This is how history should be dramatized on film.  I hope the success of this miniseries will inspire similar efforts on other Founding Fathers.

Published in: on July 1, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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2 Comments

  1. +1 for The Rough Riders, and +2 for The Wind and the Lion!

    Thanks for the list, I may be consulting it again over the weekend!

    • Two great portrayals of that force of nature Theodore Roosevelt!


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