For, Friday, June 28, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s nothing like a flag-waving movie column for Independence Day, which is next Thursday, so here’s one that suggests a few movies to help celebrate the holiday — published in the Deseret News on July 4, 2008, when we discs and streaming had not yet usurped VHS rental tapes.

When I was a kid, growing up in the 1950s and ’60s — also known as The Time Before VCRs — if you wanted to watch a movie on television, you went with the hand we were dealt. Your only choices were whatever the local TV station happened to have scheduled.

And there were only a couple of sure things: Every winter CBS would run “The Wizard of Oz” and every Fourth of July some local station would show “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

At our house those two films became annual traditions. But the latter was particularly significant as it was geared to the day it was shown.

Not too many Independence Days went by before I had memorized Hollywood’s version of the life of songwriter/showman George M. Cohan, who repeatedly said he was born on the Fourth of July. (He was actually born on the third).

The film gave James Cagney his Oscar-winning role, and his marionette-style of dancing and talk-singing of many Cohan songs — “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Over There” — along with Cohan’s devotion to God and country. are still hard to beat if you want to get your heart pumping while you salute the red, white and blue.


Fred Astaire, 'Holiday Inn' (1942); poster for 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939)

Cohan’s tunes had been written with World War I in mind but shortly after the cameras began rolling on “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” Pearl Harbor was bombed, prompting the filmmakers to amp up the picture’s high-spirited flag-waving. The result remains at once corny and inspiring, the ultimate Fourth flick.

But, of course, there are other patriotic feel-good favorites you may want to consider.

— “Holiday Inn” is generally associated with the introduction of the classic song “White Christmas,” but it also celebrates several other holidays — including the Fourth of July with Fred Astaire’s unforgettable firecracker dance.

— James Stewart did NOT win the Oscar for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” but he should have, as a naïve appointed senator who finds himself surrounded by corruption, to include the senior senator he has always admired. Stewart’s climactic filibuster will make you want to leap from your chair to cheer him on.

— I’m not sure any sports movie is more patriotic than “Miracle,” with Kurt Russell as the coach who builds a U.S. hockey team designed to bring down the Soviets at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. (And if you can find a VHS copy of the TV movie “Miracle on Ice” with Karl Malden, that version’s not bad either.)


                  Mel Gibson, 'The Patriot' (2000)

— If you want to watch something specific to the American Revolution, there’s always the musical “1776,” the Mel Gibson action picture “The Patriot” or the recent HBO miniseries “John Adams.”

— Then there are myriad wartime films — especially those propagandistic pictures made during World War II (often starring John Wayne) that demonize the enemy and lionize the American soldier.

— But one of my favorites is a post-World War II film, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” about three disparate veterans (Fredric March, Dana Andrews and double Oscar-winner Harold Russell) returning from overseas duty to the women they love (Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo and Cathy O’Donnell — with Teresa Wright thrown in to shake things up).

To my mind, no film more successfully captures the human spirit in the throes of a country’s rebuilding and adjusting to change — which is really what patriotism is all about.