The Spirit of America in the Movies
by Phil Boatwright

The 4th of July is here and many will celebrate with fireworks and mattress sales. But you know that’s not the true purpose of the holiday. With this day, we commemorate not just our Independence, but the character of our Nation. And along with history books, many movies have given examples of the true spirit of America. The most endearing films, like biblical parables, nourish the spirit as well as entertain, and in the case of the following films, they provide an insight into the character and diversity of America’s citizenry. For complete reviews and the reasons for the ratings of my selections, click on the linked film titles.

America’s Heart and Soul (2004)
Filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg packed up his camera and hit the road with the goal of capturing both the unparalleled beauty of the U.S. and the incomparable spirit of its people. Schwartzberg’s gift is his ability to connect with people, honestly capturing their values, dreams, and passion. America’s Heart and Soul is a celebration of a nation told through the voices of its people. PG

In America (2003)
An Irish couple and their two adolescent daughters begin a new life in the U.S. To 11-year-old Christy (Sarah Bolger) and her younger sister (real-life sibling Emma), America is a place of magic where anything is possible. To their parents, it represents a place to begin anew. PG-13

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Horton Foote's winning screenplay of the Harper Lee novel about rural life, justice, honor and bigotry as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl helped Gregory Peck win a deserved Best Actor Oscar as Atticus Finch. Beautifully photographed in black-and-white, with a haunting score by Elmer Bernstein, it offers a vivid portrait of Southern life via the 1950s. Unrated

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
This charming look at rural life during the beginning of WWII stars Edward G. Robinson (outstanding) and little Margaret O'Brien. It contains a respect for Christianity and reveals the price paid for freedom. Keep Kleenex handy for Margaret's sacrifice toward the end of the film. Unrated

1776 (1972)
William Daniels stars as John Adams in this inspiring historical musical/drama depicting the beginning of the American Revolution. Caution: contains a few expletives and the phrase “By God” is used several times, but it is also evident that many of the Founding Fathers respected our Creator. PG

I Remember Mama (1948)
Irene Dunne and Barbara Bel Geddes star. Ms. Dunne portrays the matriarch of a Norwegian immigrant family struggling with life's problems in their new homeland. Unrated

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
Jimmy Stewart reminds us of what American politicians should aspire to. Freshman Senator Jefferson Smith finds himself fighting for the ordinary guy. A very moving and perceptive film from director Frank Capra. Unrated

Friendly Persuasion (1956)
Unforgettable Gary Cooper tour de force, this charming portrayal of a Quaker family caught in the Civil War conflict is witty, touching and is brimming with character. Unrated

42 (2013)
Chadwick Boseman stars as Jackie Robinson in this powerful indictment against prejudice and bigotry. 42 also exemplifies courage and faith in the ultimate good of man, and reminds us that one man, backed by another, can turn our world around. Despite the reenactment of injustice and the evil of bigotry, it is a film that offers hope and goodwill. PG-13

Sounder (1972)
Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, Kevin Hooks. Rated G. Stirring story of a black sharecropper's family during the Depression. Nominated for Best Picture that year along with the lead actors. Truly marvelous. G

Places in the Heart (1984)
A literate script presents a determined widow (Sally Field) bent on saving her farm during the 1930s Depression. Contains perhaps the greatest ending to a film this buff has ever seen. PG

For All Mankind (1989)
A beautifully made examination of Neil Armstrong’s flight to the moon, the word “wondrous” jumps to mind. It was a moment of glory all of America shared. G

The Fighting Sullivans (1944)
True account of five close-knit brothers killed in battle during WW2. It deals mainly with the family growing up and is replete with folksy life lessons and gentle humor. Today's generation may cringe at some of the dated dialogue, including the expression, “That's swell,” but I would remind under-twenty-somethings that, in their future, the idiom “dude” will also cause ridicule. Starring Thomas Mitchell, Ward Bond, Bobby Driscoll, Anne Baxter. Unrated

One Foot in Heaven (1941)
Fredric March stars in this entertaining story of a minister and his family as they deal with church difficulties at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a funny and often moving drama, with a great scene where the pastor goes to his first movie. Unrated

In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)
The incisive documentary features the accounts of the surviving members of the Apollo teams who walked on the moon. At one point, we hear Charles Duke from the Apollo 9 mission give his testimony. I couldn’t believe my ears; a man was declaring his faith in Jesus Christ and there were no snickers from audience members. Indeed, my fellow moviegoers were moved, realizing that there is something far bigger than man, or even space itself. PG