Celluloid Heroes -- A list of movies portraying real life heroes that exemplify traditional values


Heroes used to be easy to find in movies and sandwich shops but have been replaced in both by microwaveable concoctions with the juice and the spice burned out. So where do parents turn for cinematic role models who exemplify those traditional heroic values of selflessness, decency, and constancy? To that storefront time machine, the video shop.

The most celebrated American hero of the early 20th century was surely Charles A. Lindbergh, and the success of Billy Wilder’s homage to Lindy — The Spirit of St. Louis (1957, Warner) — is in conveying the cultural significance of the Lone Eagle’s transatlantic solo flight in 1927 and in evoking the exemplary personal qualities that induced the young airmail pilot (James Stewart) to raise the money, build the plane, and make the 3,600-mile flight with primitive instruments — man, without even a front window!

As to the century’s great international heroes, the greatest of all is probably the shy, ascetic Indian attorney whose story is told in Richard Attenborough’s meticulous epic, Gandhi (1982, RCA/Columbia). One of the few films to deal intelligently with Third World leaders, the Oscar-winning drama follows Mohandas Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) in leading his nation to independence from Britain and depicts the roots, shape, and dramatic majesty of his nonviolent activism — making it as cinematically compelling as the majority of action-adventure fare.

Of the lamentably few heroic-woman films, two notable efforts focus on ordinary citizens thrust into an exhibition of uncommon bravery. In Marie (1985, MGM/UA), Tennessee housewife-turned-activist Marie Ragghianti (Sissy Spa-cek) tackles corruption in state government. In Silkwood (1983, Nelson) plutoni-um-plant worker Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) crusades against nuclear hazards. Both women must fight to be taken seriously by largely male-dominated establishments before they can plead their cases.

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