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Posts Tagged ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’

Independence Day: Characters Count

The fourth of July has become somewhat of a bittersweet holiday for me, as of late. Although the birth of our nation was founded on inclusive, democratic ideals, the current climate of the American political system can be, well, downright depressing. Although I want to show patriotism for my country on the day of its birth, how can I celebrate the spirit of America when those in the public sphere are not exhibiting it? Well, I’ll tell you how: through the movies.  Yes, there are certain classic film characters that have stuck out in my mind as embodying the true sprit of America. Armed with integrity, a strong sense of democracy and a tenacious, spunky attitude, the following three classic movie characters all represent the best this young nation has to offer.

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James Stewart as Jefferson Smith from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:
American Integrity

At the start of the film, to call Jefferson Smith naive, is to call the kettle black. Of course he’s naive — that’s why he was chosen, so to speak. He so genuinely believed in the American Spirit, in the American Way, that it never even crossed his mind that the government, let alone a trusted friend and politician, could be rife with greed and corruption. His disillusion is something, in my opinion, that every observant, patriotic American citizen will one day endure. I only hope that we can all endure it with the same dignity and integrity as Jefferson Smith.

Much like the forefathers of the United States, Jefferson would not sit idly by and watch as corruption and lies ruled the American (or in the forefathers’ case, Colonial) landscape. To be honest and loyal to the people of a government — and not simply to the government itself — was of the upmost importance. So what did Mr. Smith do? Well, he fought for what he thought was right. He stood up to the government in its own building, surrounded by those whose biggest wish was to see him fail, and through the discourse of the American Spirit, reminded the most corrupt of the American people (the politicians), the meaning of what it is to be American.

“There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”

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Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird:
American Ethics

To me, Atticus Finch (just like Gregory Peck) is seemingly too perfect to be true. Intelligent, compassionate, and oh-so gosh darned good looking, I can only wish a man that perfect, that dignified, could really exist. But, as of now, I am willing to accept him for what he is: a representation of American Ethics.

What always stuck out to me about Atticus was, not simply the fact that he was willing to defend Tom Robinson, but rather, what the trial meant to him. The trial was not simply a job; the fate of single man in a racist, small town. For Atticus, the case represented something more. He was not just fighting for the innocence of an individual; he was battling the precedent of an unfair, unjust legal system. He was fighting for the American people and arguing for the responsibility each American has for his fellow man. And even if the battle was uphill, even if failure was imminent, and we all know it was, that was not the point. The point was to do what was right; to work towards equality and democracy even if the outcome is already prescribed.

“In our courts, all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system – that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality! Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review, without passion, the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of GOD, do your duty.”

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Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday:
American Tenacity

Stubborn, crass, with a great capacity for learning, Billie Dawn’s narrative arch is not unlike that of the United States. Kept as a prize by a larger domineering entity, the only thing the United States and Billie Dawn needed was a little education and a little push to break away from their oppressors.

The reason I chose Billie Dawn to represent American Tenacity, as opposed to another, how shall we say, more couth character, is because America isn’t always very couth — and I don’t consider that a bad thing. Billie is rough, Billie is tough, but most of all, when given a fair chance, Billie is smart. Her hard edge and simple disposition may fool those around her, but deep down, Billie is as capable of learning the highest concept of the American Ideals as any Harvard Graduate. And once she became aware of her own power, nothing could stop her.

“Because when ya steal from the government, you’re stealing from yourself, ya dumb ass.”

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Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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3. Gone with the Wind (1939)

Other Nominated Films:
Dark Victory, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights

One movie won 10 Academy Awards, holding the record for most wins until 1959.  One movie is the longest film on my list, standing at a whopping 234 minutes. And one movie is the highest-grossing film of all time*.  These honors belong to the one, the only, Gone with the Wind. Although incredibly racist at times, Gone with the Wind tells an amazing story of love, loss and war so eloquently that you forget you’re watching a movie — you become so completely immersed in the film that you feel as if you are there.  I remember the first time I watched it.  I received the film from Netflix; normally every movie comes in one sleeve…not this one. Gone with the Wind came with two DVDs just for the movie itself…I was terrified, thinking it would be a daunting task. But, I went on to watch it with a few friends and I absolutely loved it. We did take an intermission though…far too long. Anywho! I will admit…I feel extremely intimidated writing about Gone with the Wind — it’s such a big movie that it’s hard even just describing the plot.  I will do my best though!  The story begins on the eve of the Civil War at Tara, a Georgia cotton plantation owned by Gerald O’Hara (Thomas Mitchell).  O’Hara’s exceptionally pretty daughter, Scarlett (Vivien Leigh), is flirting with the Tarleton brothers, Brent (Fred Crane) and Stuart (George Reeves). They are talking about the likelihood of war breaking out between the North and the South — a topic Scarlett finds extremely boring.  To keep Scarlett amused, the brothers start talking about the next ball, and then share a secret with Scarlett: Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) is going to marry his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland).  Unaware that Scarlett is secretly in love with Ashley, the brothers go on to say that the engagement announcement will take place the next day at a barbecue on Ashley’s plantation, Twelve Oaks.  It is at the barbecue when we’re first introduced to Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Rhett isn’t exactly popular amongst the party guests…he was turned out of West Point, disowned by his Charleston family, and he openly states that the South would have no chance against the North in the upcoming war. As the girls are taking their mid-afternoon naps, Scarlett sneaks away to the library to be alone with Ashley and confess her love to him.  Ashley says that he feels the same towards Scarlett, but claims that he and Melanie are more compatible. Scarlett accuses Ashley of misleading her and slaps Ashley. Ashley leaves the room, and Scarlett throws a vase at the wall in anger.  Rhett Butler suddenly pops up from the couch where he’d been resting, and reveals that he overheard the entire conversation. Scarlett is furious.  As Scarlett leaves the library, the barbecue is disrupted by some very important news: the war has begun. The men rush to enlist and the ladies all…well…they wake up from their naps (wish there was something more dramatic to add here).  As Scarlett watches Ashley kiss Melanie goodbye, Melanie’s brother Charles (Rand Brooks), who Scarlett flirted with earlier that day, asks Scarlett to marry him. Angry that Ashley rejected her, Scarlett accepts despite that fact that she does not love Charles.  They are married before he leaves to fight.  If I remember correctly, I believe I have summarized the first 20-30 minutes of the movie. It’s more than I expected to tell, but then there’s so much more to watch if you haven’t seen the movie yet. Alright, give me a few moments to catch my breath.

Okay I’m back. Gone with the Wind is such a good movie, and there’s so much I could talk about! I could talk about the wonderful acting, the fantastic script, the mesmerizing music, the beautiful scenery…but I won’t go into all of that. If you’ve seen the movie…you know all of this. So I’ll just tell you the impact the film has had on the movie industry. Gone with the Wind is one of the highest ranked movies on numerous American Film Institute Top 100 Lists: #4 in 100 Movies, #2 in 100 Passions, #1, #31, and #59 in Movie Quotes (I’ll post all three below), #2 in Film Scores, #43 in Cheers, and #4 in Epic Films. Gone with the Wind was the first film to receive more than five Oscars. On March 22, 2011, ABC aired a television special: Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time — Gone with the Wind ranked #1 for Greatest On-Screen Kiss, #1 for Greatest Line, #3 for Greatest Film Character (Scarlett O’Hara), and #1 for Best Film beating out The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, E.T. and my #1 film on this list. I’m going to be completely honest now, I’m wiped out. I know that there’s so much more I could say about Gone with the Wind, but I think you’ll understand if I just say: Gone with the Wind will always be one of the greatest films to ever hit the big screen.

Nominated for 13 Oscars, Winner of 8
Honorary Award – William Cameron Menzies – For outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone with the Wind
Technical Achievement Award – R.D. Musgrave – For pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment in the production Gone with the Wind
Best Actress in a Leading Role – Vivien Leigh (WON)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Hattie McDaniel (WON) [Became the first African American to be nominated for and win an Oscar]
Best Art Direction – Lyle R. Wheeler (WON)
Best Cinematography, Color – Ernest Haller, Ray Rennahan (WON)
Best Director – Victor Fleming (WON)
Best Film Editing – Hal C. Kern, James E. Newcom (WON)
Best Picture – Selznick International Pictures (WON)
Best Writing, Screenplay – Sidney Howard (WON)
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Clark Gable
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Olivia de Havilland
Best Effects, Special Effects – Jack Cosgrove (photographic), Fred Albin (sound), Arthur Johns (sound)
Best Music, Original Score – Max Steiner
Best Sound, Recording – Thomas T. Moulton (Samuel Goldwyn SSD)

(#1) Rhett Butler: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
(#31) Scarlett: After all… tomorrow is another day!
(#59) Scarlett: As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.

* — Source: http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm

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