Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Capital Classics for the Fourth of July

Summer has arrived, and the Fourth of July is just around the corner. It's too hot to be outside, so why not celebrate with some classic movies set in our nation's capital? If you haven't been feeling especially optimistic about our country's politicians lately, these films might provide some relief from the debacle of modern politics, although it's important to remember that the Hays Code helped to tint those rose-colored spectacles an even softer shade. Nonetheless, here are some classic movies that memorably depict the ideals of the American experiment if not its reality.


MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) - Frank Capra's tale of a young Senator's political education is quintessential Capra "corn" with James Stewart and Claude Rains delivering outstanding performances, especially Stewart in the famous filibuster scene. Although some in the US took offense at the depiction of Washington insiders, the film was banned in other countries precisely because of its pro-democracy stance. Capra, Stewart, Rains, and costar Harry Carey all picked up Oscar nominations for their work, and the movie earned six additional nominations, but it only won the Academy Award for Lewis R. Foster's writing for Best Original Story. The stellar cast also includes Jean Arthur, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, and H.B. Warner.

THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) - This wartime romantic comedy uses a housing shortage in Washington, D.C., to bring together an unlikely trio played by Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn. George Stevens directs the stars through some hilarious situations, with sizzling fireworks going off between Arthur and McCrea, but Coburn proves the scene-stealer of the lot in a performance that earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The picture garnered five additional nominations, including nods for Stevens and Arthur. It's an absolute delight from start to finish, and fans of modern rom coms will find a lot to love in this underrated classic.


BORN YESTERDAY (1950) - George Cukor directs the brilliant Judy Holliday in her Oscar-winning performance as Billie Dawn, a former chorus girl whose domineering and crooked boyfriend (Broderick Crawford) wants her to become more respectably well-educated now that his business has him hobnobbing with Washington politicians. William Holden plays the political writer hired to tutor Billie, and the two inevitably fall in love while touring the sights of the nation's capital. Billie's personal and political awakenings drive the picture, which was adapted from the 1946 Broadway play by Garson Kanin (in which Holliday also originated the role). 

These three classics make a great triple feature for your Fourth of July holiday, but if you prefer patriotic goodwill outside the Beltway, you can always celebrate with the beloved James Cagney musical, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942). If you prefer something darker, dive into JAWS (1975) for red blood, a Great White, and deep blue ocean with a climax that takes place over the Fourth of July weekend.

You'll find full-length reviews of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Born Yesterday, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and hundreds of other classic movies in my two books, BEYOND CASABLANCA and BEYOND CASABLANCA II, both of which are available as ebooks on Amazon. Hundreds more are posted here on my blog. Just use the labels to search for your favorite actors, directors, and genres!

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