Stars and Stripes on the Big Screen

Published July 04, 2001

| FoxNews.com

Christmas has It's a Wonderful Life, Easter has The Ten Commandments and Thanksgiving has hours and hours of after-dinner football.

When it comes to quality holiday boob-tube time, the Fourth of July doesn't even come in fifth. But it doesn't need to be that way.

Grab that cob of corn, set the beer mug on your belly and don't let the kids distract you as the television bathes you in the glow of patriotic movies you can rent for Independence Day.

You can't get any more rah-rah-America than 1942's Yankee Doodle Dandy, the Oscar-winning musical in which James Cagney plays composer/actor/singer/dancer George M. Cohan. It's in black-and-white, but if you want your Star Spangled Banner in red, white and blue instead of shades of gray, colorized versions are available.

If you like movies from the 1940s but would prefer your song-and-dance routines set to cannonfire, Keith Simanton, managing editor of the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), recommends This Is the Army.

It's a 1943 flick in which a WWI soldier has to put on an all-soldier show while sorting out his feelings for his fiancée. As an extra-nationalistic bonus, it features Ronald Reagan and "First Lady of Radio" Kate Smith. But the most patriotic part of the movie might just be the Irving Berlin score, Simanton said.

"It's got this great scene where Irving Berlin sings, 'Oh how I hate to get up in the morning,' which is basically about killing the guy who plays reveille," he said.

More sentimental types might appreciate Mister Roberts, the 1955 World War II comedy-drama in which opportunistic Jack Lemmon and first-to-the-front Henry Fonda square off against tyrannical captain, played by James Cagney.

"Mister Roberts is in a lot of ways a very patriotic film, very 'rally around the flags, boys,'" Simanton said. "Fonda is a guy on a ship who just dispenses toilet paper with Cagney as the captain, a kind of martinet, and Fonda wants to get to the front of the fighting. It's a nice tie-in with Jack Lemmon having just passed away."

And let's not assume that the Christmas season has dibs on that all-American Jimmy Stewart. You can't go wrong when Stewart and Frank Capra team up in 1939's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where instead of using bullets, the heroes fight for liberty with petitions and filibusters.

"It is very cynical about Washington, D.C., about Congress, but it was infected with the Capra belief in the everyman who actually carries on the revolutionary spirit," Simanton said.

If you want to experience the immigrant life from the comfort of an air-conditioned living room, try The Godfather and the Godfather 2, with their dark, bloody meditations on what it means to make it as an American.

Then there's Avalon, Barry Levinson's 1990 tribute to his hometown, Baltimore, about a Jewish family in the 1940s and 1950s. But if you want the ultimate Statue of Liberty scene, turn to The Legend of 1900, the 1998 Italian movie with Tim Roth. It has a New York Harbor scene that sets a standard for beauty, Simanton said.

You might want to fast forward to the Cold War's space race and watch The Right Stuff, the Mercury astronaut epic about the early days of America's space program. Or, keeping your eyes on the stars, you could be more literal and rent 1996's Independence Day, a kind of 'Best Of' compilation of other science-fiction movies in which aliens blow up the White House. Even with the seat of power destroyed, the enemy is ultimately defeated — with the President of the United states, played by Bill Pullman, leading the battle in a combat jet.

Ironically, probably the only thing you'll find trouble filling your screen with on Independence Day is a decent movie set during the Revolutionary War, Simanton said. That didn't change with the release in 2000 of the gorgeous-yet-wretched The Patriot, a Mel Gibson vehicle loosely based on South Carolina's Revolutionary War hero "The Swamp Fox."

"For some reason, no one can take those eight years (of the Revolution) and do anything with it," Simanton said.

Fox News' Bill McCuddy contributed to this report.

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