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Friday, July 1, 2011

Independence Day Movies!

No, not the movie Independence Day, for all of you who came here via an unlucky Google search...  Movies for Independence Day...
As usual, unable to limit myself to just one film, I have two for you.  First, an obvious choice...  Yankee Doodle Dandy.  If you haven't seen this James Cagney (probably highly fictionalized) version of George M. Cohan's life, you are missing out on what is surely a national treasure.  The song and dance numbers are terrific and the music will stay with you for days and the star-spangled, flag-waving stage tribute might even bring a patriotic tear to the eye.

While I'm not always a huge fan of some musicals - those that seem to be designed entirely to highlight a few dance numbers and have virtually no story.  But give me a Yankee Doodle Dandy, an Easter Parade or a Meet Me in St. Louis, and you really have something.  I watch this picture a couple of times each year, and I haven't tired of it yet.  And, it's a chance to seem James Cagney in action - an actor that's probably largely forgotten to many.  If he is remembered, it's for the scene in Public Enemy when he shoves a grapefruit into costar Mae Clark's face.  Sad for a very versatile and talented actor who's career spanned several decades.


My second pick might be relatively unknown to you, but it's been a favorite of mine since I came upon it one Sunday afternoon as a child.  Wilson is the story of our twenty-eighth president, and it is a visually beautiful film.  Like so many pictures of the time (Wilson was made in 1944), the use of rich Technicolor adds immeasurably to the story.  What's also interesting is the way in which Woodrow Wilson is portrayed by Alexander Knox.  Rather than the dry, reserved, rigidly intellectual man that his portraits suggest, Wilson was a man who loved time spent having fun with his wife and daughters - evenings spent around the piano singing popular songs of the day, or regular visits to vaudeville shows, even during his time as president.  What isn't known by many is that Woodrow Wilson was, despite appearances, an extremely passionate man who loved both his first wife (Ellen Wilson, an extremely accomplished painter, died early in her husband's White House tenure) and his second wife (Edith, subject of much speculation about her role as "co-president" following Wilson's stroke) quite madly.

Woodrow Wilson, presidential
lover boy?
Wilson wasn't a hit at the box office, but critics and the Academy loved it.  It won nine Oscars, including awards for color, screenplay, decoration and writing.  It was nominated for an additional seven in areas such as best actor and even best picture.

For viewers today, Wilson is a gentle, and somewhat fictionalized, history lesson that will make you feel good about America's past.  It will also depict a very different sort of presidency than we are used to in our media-mad age.

While Yankee Doodle Dandy is available on DVD, Wilson, sadly, is not.  I will add Yankee to the Dapper and Dreamy Bookshop and, if I can find it, the VHS version of Wilson.

And, now, just to remind you of why old movies are Dapper and Dreamy and mid-seventies variety shows are not...  even it's the Brady Bunch...

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