Holy Schnikes. It’s already July. It’s been a banner year so far. Let’s celebrate by lighting sticks of mini-dynamite and blow our fingers off with glee while decorating the ground with pools of crimson from our newly-created stumps. Or we could just play it safe and be curmudgeons who watch movies that remind us of our hallowed holiday via references or just plain patriotism. Let’s do that instead.
One way to celebrate our independence from tyranny is to watch a mid-level blockbuster created by the guys who’d later Americanize Godzilla. Everyone remembers where they were when Captain Steve Hiller, a man very anxious to whoop E.T.’s ass, said “Welcome to Earth!” after punching an alien in his H.R. Giger-esque grill … on July Fourth no less. It could always be worse, I ‘spose. You could always be dealing with a shark and his deadly …
Look no further than Steven Spielberg’s classic shark film for a fun July Fourth family outing gone right down the shitter. A big shark terrorizes people from the first frame but one of the standout set pieces is the scene where police Chief Martin Brody nervously watches the beaches of Amity, waiting for the inevitable shark attack. Personally, it sounds like an insanely tense way to celebrate a holiday as American as apple pie or a rousing game of baseball played by kids on …
You ever seen this movie about a bunch of kids losing their baseball and trying to retrieve it from a canine they only know as The Beast? There’s one heartwarming scene where they play baseball under a July Fourth night sky illuminated by fireworks and Ray Charles’ voice on the soundtrack. You’ve really never seen it? You’re killin’ me, Smalls.
I guess there are always other films you could watch. Take for example…
The Music Man
Robert Preston takes center stage as Harold Hill, a traveling con man. When he gets to River City on the Fourth of July, he uses the excitement surrounding the holiday to con the locals into starting a band by plunking down oodles of hard-earned cash on uniforms and instruments from him with the sole intent of taking the money and running. All is going according to plan until a librarian (Shirley Jones) catches on to his scheme. Before you can say, “Shipoopi,” Harold begins second guessing his whole plan.
Yankee Doodle Dandy
In this 1942 musical (or YDD as all the Cagneyheads call it) starring James Cagney, Broadway legend George M. Cohan (Cagney) reflects on choices in his life that brought him to the White House to receive a Congressional Gold Medal from President Roosevelt. The story is told via reliable narrative flashbacks that trace the ascent and struggles Cohan — who was supposedly born on the Fourth of July — experiences to become a successful artist known for songs like “Over There,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and that song about being a dandy.
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
Jefferson Smith, an idealistic young man played by Jimmy Stewart, is appointed to the United States Senate. Once there he is mentored by one Sen. Joseph Paine (Claude Rains). All is fine and dandy like sour apple candy until Paine’s moral and noble crown begins to show quite a few dings in it. Before too long Paine attempts to besmirch and sully Smith’s rep. Smith, the man who’d prefer to see a national boy’s camp funded by donations from citizens in lieu of another seedy land development deal close, ain’t afraid of such tactics. In fact he’ll gladly state his case on the Senate floor for 25 hours. Even though it technically doesn’t take place on the Fourth, it’s still a wonderful film that reaffirms our faith in government … until you start thinking about the cold reality of such films as …
Born on the Fourth of July
Unlike the fictional character played by Cagney, former Marine/anti-war activist Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) was legit born on the Fourth of July. And that’s about as patriotic as it gets in Oliver Stone’s Oscar winning adaptation of Kovic’s autobiography. The grueling 30-year-old film follows Kovic from his days serving in the Vietnam War to the life-changing moment he was paralyzed while in combat to his role as a voice of dissent. It’s a great film.
Say you find yourself more aligned with Stone’s passions but would prefer your July Fourth viewing be a little more absurdist. You can’t do much better than horror auteur William Lustig’s 1996 film about the reanimated corpse of a Kuwait War serviceman returning to America to maniacally wreak havoc on those he feels wronged him. While an imperfect film, this angry direct-to-video oddity written by the late Larry Cohen is more my cup of tea considering the dissenting subject matter, the over-the-top gore, and a cast filled with genre vets like PJ Soles, Robert Forster, William Smith, Bo Hopkins, and the Black Moses of Soul, Isaac Hayes. Plus, I can’t help but like a movie that involves a disinterested lover saying, “Not right now, Ralph. There’s a dead body in the house.”