Fortnight For Freedom Day Nine: Top Ten Movies For the Fourth of July

 Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it. 

John Adams

 

Beginning for two weeks, up to Independence Day, the Bishops are having a Fortnight For Freedom:

On April 12, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document, “Our First,  Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the bishops’ concerns over threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The bishops called for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.

 

Bishops in their own dioceses are encouraged to arrange special events to  highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. Catholic  institutions are encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation  with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths and all who wish to  defend our most cherished freedom.

 

The fourteen days from June  21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to  July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for  freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face  of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the  Church of Rome.  Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our  Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that  would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for  religious liberty.

 

We here at The American Catholic are participating in the Fortnight For Freedom with special blog posts on each day.  This is the ninth of these blog posts.

 

As we are embroiled now in a struggle to preserve our religious liberty, I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price made to establish our liberties.  A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution.  Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:

10.  Ben and Me  (1953)- Something for the younger patriots.  Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos.  Quite a bit of fun.   Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.

9.  The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton.  This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie.  Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.

8.  John Paul Jones (1959)  Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero.  Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great.  The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days.  The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong.  This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900.  Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications.  Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison.  Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.

7.  The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution!  Actually not too bad of a film overall.  Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes.  Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign.  The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English.  No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive.  However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton  at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender.  The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.

6.  Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.  Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley.  Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life.

5.  Johnny Tremain (1957)-“Hundreds would die, but not the thing they died for. ‘A man can stand up…'”  The poignant last line to Esther Forbes’ novel about the events leading up to the American Revolution, a passage so moving that it even inspired Bart Simpson with a brief interest in American history!  The events in Boston from 1773-April 1775 seen through the eyes of a young apprentice silversmith.  The book is unforgettable.  The movie is American history a la Disney.  The movie is good to watch, the book is must reading.

 

4.  April Morning (1988)-Based on the 1962 novel by former commie Howard Fast (a superb novelist in spite of his taste for left-wing politics), I really wish this movie would come out on DVD.  Tommy Lee Jones is very good as the father of the protagonist, a teen-ager portrayed by Chad Lowe.  Robert Ulrich does a fine job as a friend of the family.  The movie concentrates on Lexington and Concord, and is the most realistic depiction of Revolutionary War combat I have yet seen on film.  A true overlooked minor classic.

3.  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.

 

2.  George Washington miniseries (1984) 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.

1.  1776 (1972)-Singing and dancing Founding Fathers, who could resist this!  This is an annual event at the McClarey household on the Fourth.  Although getting some of the history wrong (No, there was no mass signing of the Declaration.  No, John Dickenson was not a wealthy Tory.),  the film accurately depicts that the Declaration was very much a step into the unknown.  For all they knew, the Signers could have ended their lives executed as traitors, their cause lost and mocked at by their posterity.  Instead of taking counsel of their fears, however, they took counsel of their hopes and gave all Americans a new nation.  This film is a wonderful tribute to those extraordinary men who well deserve the title of Founding Fathers.

 

 

6 Responses to Fortnight For Freedom Day Nine: Top Ten Movies For the Fourth of July

  • I was “forced” to read “Johnny Tremain” in the 5th grade. That assignment was followed by “Rifles for Watie,” a very insightful look at the complexities of the Civil War. These are the books that inspired my fascination with miltary history and revolutionary politics, American-style. Only in later life did I realize the favor my teacher did for us. Would that educators still educated in such ways!

  • Great classics listed here. Another one is “Yankee Doodle Dandy” starring James Cagney as George M. Cohan.

  • Gibson’s character in “The Patriot” is based on Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox.”

    Excellent point on the Revolution in the South–it was a brutal civil war, as battles like King’s Mountain demonstrated. It was also where most of the war was fought after Monmouth, as the Redcoats did not care to tangle with the vastly-improved Continentals in the north.

  • An excellent list. I agree with adding Yankee Doodle Dandy. Check out my book Christians at the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners for adding a Christian dimension to the list with such films as A Man for all Seasons, Becket, The Fighting Sullivans, The Fighting 69th, Sergeant York, and lesser known films that focus on Christians fighting for freedom from tyranny like The Prisoner, Joan of Paris, and the 1947 film The Fugitive about suppression of religion in Mexico

  • I watched the series on John Adams and agree it was superbly done. The Mel Gibson film might be considered offensive, but you have to remember that like the same actor’s ‘Braveheart’ it was fiction. The latter was worth sitting through on account of the battle scenes and the final 15 minutes when the Wallace character gets his just deserts.

  • It could have been worse for Wallace John. He could have been forced to sample some English cuisine! :)

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