One of the coolest and most family friendly attributes of the city of Lubbock is its annual 4th on Broadway celebration – the state’s largest free Independence Day celebration, beginning with a lengthy parade.
But those who are homebound and/or simply trying to avoid the heat can still celebrate in front of a television set.
With that in mind, here are ten films one can consider watching on or near Independence Day.
Mind you, the choices are personal and I would invite all to respond to this story with their own choices of films celebrating the red, white and blue on July 4 weekend.
What did I consider? Patriotism, or movies that at least make one feel patriotic – ad the fight for American sacrifice and American freedoms. I also considered several war films and wanted to include at least one baseball picture.
So, in no order of preference:
‘1776’ – released in 1972, directed by Peter Stone
Not the best, or most consistent, film musical. Based on the 1969 Tony Award-winning musical, with a song score by Sherman Edwards.
Producer Jack Warner made sure the stars from Broadway reprised their Continental Congressmen roles on film, notably William Daniels as John Adams of Massachusetts, Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Howard Da Silva as Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania and John Cullum as Edward Rutledge, of South Carolina.
(It was thought that Warner regretted passing over Broadway star Julie Andrews in favor of Audrey Hepburn when adapting stage musical “My Fair Lady” into a film.)
In any case, the film reflects the slow progress made by the second Continental Congress when writing a Declaration of Independence all could agree on, even as General George Washington was fighting British troops on American soil.
Although some songs are more ticklish, the best likely remains the more serious “Molasses to Rum,” sung by Cullum when defending the South’s feelings regarding slavery.
Trivia: Make sure to purchase the 168-minute Director’s Cut, which includes all songs from the theatrical musical. For some time, the song “Cool, Cool Considerate Men” could not be heard. Warner said President Richard Nixon requested the song be deleted because it depicted Revolutionary War-era conservatives as wanting mostly power and wealth. Nixon viewed the song as insulting to conservatives, as the characters sang, “To the right, ever to the right, never to the left, forever to the right.”
‘Miracle’ – released in 2004, directed by Gavin O’Connor
This little (i.e. low budget and few stars) picture came out of virtually nowhere in early 2004, telling of the United States’ Miracle on Ice when it won the gold medal in hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Even today, many believe American amateur hockey players earned their gold medal by defeating the heavily favored hockey squad representing the Soviet Union. That win kept the United States in the medal round.
But the gold was not guaranteed until two days later, when America’s team came from behind to defeat Finland.
Still, the defeat of the Soviets is considered the larger miracle.
The film opens with the controversial hiring of University of Minnesota hockey coach Herb Brooks, played by nomination-snubbed Kurt Russell, to lead the Olympians. Almost immediately, he turns his back on more famous individual players in favor of a group he believes can be taught teamwork.
Gavin O’Connor directed a script co-written by Eric Guggenheim and Mike Rich.
‘Yankee Doodle Dandy – released in 1942, directed by Michael Curtiz
One wants to wave Old Glory while watching James Cagney’s performance as George M. Cohan, the composer responsible for such songs as “Grand Old Flag,” “Over There” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Plus, there is the thrill of seeing Cagney steal more than one scene with his dancing.
Consider it a biographical project as Cohan, reportedly born on the 4th of July while his dad was performing on vaudeville, at first joins the family act but later must mature after being blacklisted.
One more memorable scene finds Cohan, having accepted a Congressional Gold Medal, tap dancing down a stairway as he departs the White House.
Cagney may be best known for playing tough guys in “The Public Enemy,” “The Roaring Twenties” and White Heat,” even winning his first Academy Award for “Angels with Dirty Faces.” But he would win his second for singing and dancing throughout “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
He worked many years in vaudeville before snagging his first major acting part in 1925.
‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ – released in 1939, directed by Frank Capra
Few film characters are as inspiring as Senator Jefferson Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart. One of the more naïve young politicians appointed to the U.S. Senate, he develops the courage to fight against corrupt politics and later risk physical and mental injury by delivering a taxing filibuster.
Surprisingly, the Boy Scouts of America would not allow its name to be used, so Stewart’s Smith instead represents a youth group known as the Boy Rangers.
The film would end up banned in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and Stalin’s USSR.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” won an Oscar for its writing, no mean feat as it was released in 1939, one of history’s most impressive years for feature films. Just a few of the other movies released in 1939 include “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Stagecoach,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” “Young Mr. Lincoln” and “Gunga Din.”
‘Independence Day’ – released in 1996, directed by Roland Emmerich.
I suppose this is the very first film many think of on July 4, for obvious reasons. While characterizations are nothing to write home about, it remained the most profitable film released in 1996.
This science fiction film finds Earth invaded by hostile aliens on July 2. We are told a huge mothership has one fourth the mass of the moon. It deploys assault saucers, each 15 miles wide, all taking positions over the world’s important cities. And in what is considered an incredible example of cinematic visual special effects – no doubt helping “Independence Day” claim the visual effects Oscar – the attack saucer blows up the White House.
With the help of a Marine (Will Smith) and local citizen (Randy Quaid), America helps the world fight back on July 4 – but not before President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) delivers a motivational speech about the importance of “our Independence Day.”
It is no classic, although admittedly far better than a sequel that arrived some 20 years later, “Independence Day: Resurgence.”
‘Rocky IV’ – released in 1985, directed by Sylvester Stallone
My grandson describes this film as “Rocky beats up Russia.”
How’s that for cinematic patriotism?
Until being overtaken by “The Blind Side,” “Rocky IV” was the highest grossing sports film for 24 years. It remains the most financially successful chapter in the “Rocky” series.
The film made a star of Dolph Lungren, cast as Ivan Drago, a Soviet military officer trained to become a heavyweight boxing champion. Drago prefers to fight American champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, who also directs). But it is American boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) who, motivated by patriotism and ego, challenges Drago to an exhibition boxing match.
Apollo later enters the Las Vegas ring to the sounds of James Brown performing “Living in America.”
Drago takes the fight much more seriously, holding nothing back and saying, “If he dies, he dies.”
Barely withholding his anger, Balboa, having kept a final promise to his friend Apollo, soon agrees to an unsanctioned Christmas Day, 15-round grudge match vs. Drago in the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Politburo makes certain Drago has every benefit, from steroids to scientists and the best in technical equipment. Rocky must set up his training camp at a remote cabin in freezing weather, building the strength to haul logs and ascend mountains of ice.
Watching the film again, one is impressed not so much by the fight choreography as the bone-crushing sound effects which increase in intensity with each round.
Mind you, Stallone was hoping his movie could accomplish what governments had not, allowing Balboa to state in the simplest terms, “If I can change, then you can change, and everybody can change.”
Make no mistake, Stallone was banking on the red, white and blue.
‘The Patriot’ – released in 2000, directed by Roland Emmerich
Never one of my favorite movies, for a variety of reasons. Still, the time frame is 1776 and the story deals with characters fighting the Revolutionary War.
Mel Gibson stars as poor farmer Benjamin Martin, who already fought in the French and Indian War. Now a widower with seven children, he fears a war with Great Britain. He and his family are content to provide aid to the wounded on both sides and he is heartbroken when one of his sons joins the Continental Army.
Actor Jason Isaacs plays a British colonel responsible for the deaths of Martin’s sons and, more, the ushering of Continental supporters into a church and then burning it to the ground.
Action explodes as Gibson’s Martin, often choosing a tomahawk over a musket, torments British forces before disappearing into the wilderness like a ghost. This might bring to mind the real life character of Frances Marion, aka The Swamp Fox, but screenwriters do not follow through.
Too much fiction frequents the script, including the aforementioned church burning by the British. But this film no doubt fits the boundaries of our multi-movie fare over Independence Day weekend.
Trivia: Quotes were credited to a highly positive review written by David Manning, of The Ridgefield Press in Connecticut. A Newsweek reporter discovered there was no David Manning employed by that newspaper. This was about the same time Sony was busted for asking its own employees to pose as moviegoers in television commercials, thus raising questions about ethics within movie marketing.
‘Saving Private Ryan’ – released in 1998, directed by Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s film captures the patriotism and sense of sacrifice fueled in so many ways during wartime.
In what must rank as one of the most ludicrous snubs ever perpetrated at the Academy Awards, Spielberg deservedly earned an Oscar for his direction – while minutes later, “Shakespeare In Love,” proven forgettable in the years that since have passed, was named Best Picture of the Year.
Indeed, a percentage of film critics noted “Saving Private Ryan” is more experienced than enjoyed. The film has lost none of the impact of its 1998 opening, although, not surprisingly, is at its best on a wide screen in the dark.
Action opens with the Omaha Beach assault during the Normandy beach landing during World War II. Spielberg devoted 15 percent of the entire film’s budget to this recreation. Conversation and refreshments no doubt are set aside during the film’s opening 27 minutes.
Eventually, the story depicts the War Department’s learning that three of four brothers from the same family, all of whom enlisted, have been killed in battle.
Determined a fourth brother would not meet the same fate, Capt. John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) from the 2nd Ranger Company is ordered to cross bomb-cratered country, track down the fourth Ryan brother and bring him home.
Miller assigns seven men from his own platoon to accompany him on the search for Ryan. Actors who accompany Hanks on his search include Giovini Ribisi, Vin Diesel and Barry Pepper.
Veterans applauded the film for its believability. Yet many veterans needed counseling after seeing a film that brought back so many nightmarish memories.
“Saving Private Ryan” inspires grateful feelings for the men and women who sacrificed while serving during the war and allow moviegoers to carry away added emotion for the phrase, “Earn this.”
‘A League of Their Own’ – released in 1992, directed by Penny Marshall
I considered “The Sandlot” or “The Natural” for the baseball movie I deem necessary for this list.
One is perhaps the best movie about baseball and children. As for the latter, know when the Texas Rangers hit a home run at their home park in Arlington, spectators are re-introduced to Randy Newman’s music from “The Natural” while enjoying fireworks worthy of Roy Hobbs.
That said, what could be more American than the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
“A League of Their Own” provides a fictionalized account of the very real league given birth after so many Major League baseball players left their teams during World War II to fight for Allied forces.
When the war threatens to shut down Major League Baseball, Chicago Cubs owner and candy magnate Walter Harvey (played by Garry Marshall) persuades all of baseball’s owners to help finance a women’s league.
Actor Jon Lovitz sets out to recruit female players, signing sisters out of Oregon played by Geena Davis and Lori Petty. New Yorkers “All the Way” Mae (Madonna) and bouncer Doris (Rosie O’Donnell) are also aboard.
Delivering yet another fantastic performance is Tom Hanks as former Cubs slugger Jimmy Dugan, now asked to manage the Rockford Peaches. Jimmy fights a daily battle with the concept of women in his dugout, at one point asking, “Is she crying?
“There’s no crying in baseball.”
Meanwhile, audiences watch the Peaches play against such teams as the Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles and South Bend Blue Sox. The women try to play hard enough to reach the World Series, all the while praying their own husbands and/or other family members dodge death while fighting a war a world away.
The writing for this picture is as impressive as performances throughout. If you never have seen this movie, push it to the top of your list.
‘Glory’ – released in 1989, directed by Edward Zwick
I was getting stuck picking a tenth film. I gave some thought to “National Treasure,” with clues demanding the theft of the Declaration of Independence; “Jaws,” because many are sure it takes place on the 4th of July; and “Patton,” because the opening speech by George C. Scott is framed by one of the biggest American flags I’ve ever seen.
I returned to an original war film.
I have often watched “Glory.” I am a big admirer of director Edward Zwick, love the soundtrack music by James Horner, and enjoyed learning about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first Union Army’s regiments of African American volunteers in the Civil War.
But these African Americans – aware the Confederacy has promised execution or slavery if they are captured wearing Union blue – must deal with racist quartermasters refusing to give them shoes and federal regulations signifying a white soldier is worth $3 more per month than a black one.
Matthew Broderick is strong as the commanding officer recognizing his regiment’s desire to fight, with more good work delivered by Morgan Freeman and a young Denzel Washington. The latter earned his first Academy Award.
This film reflects sacrifices made in interest of nation, and patriotism that leads men to risk their lives for country … when the cause is, or should be, right.
It is a dandy film to watch this weekend and perhaps discuss afterward.