Thomas Edison introduced the first Kinetoscope in 1891, meaning America has been making movies for more than half of its existence as a country. It makes sense, then, that over that time there have been at least a few rousing cinematic celebrations of the U.S. of A., and the 4th of July is as good a time as any to look back on some of Hollywood’s great patriotic panegyrics. Regardless of your thoughts on American exceptionalism, Americans have always been exceptionally good at telling you just how exceptional we think we are.
For example, there’s Bill Murray’s “We’re mutts!” speech in Stripes, in which he gets his fellow bumbling enlistees’ red, white, and blue blood pumping by playing up America’s underdog status. “We’re not Watusi, we’re not Spartans…we’re Americans!”
If you like your patriotism a little less goofy and a lot more grizzled and gruff, there’s Harrison Ford’s anti-isolationist oration as the soon-to-be hijacked President Marshall in Air Force One. George Washington wouldn’t have approved, but one can imagine Dick Cheney gleefully rubbing his hands together and squawking, “Yes, yes, excellent…,” as he watches the hawkish address on repeat, hiding his growing excitement with a throw pillow.
In an age in which Congress’ approval ratings hover somewhere slightly above a fork in the eye but slightly below genital warts, Jimmy Stewart’s impassioned filibuster on the floor of the Senate in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which he rails against the corruption of the professional political class, is as timely as ever. Unsurprisingly, when Frank Capra’s film came out in 1939, it rankled politicians and led some to accuse its criticisms of Congressional idiocy and graft of being un-American and pro-Communist. The more things change…
And then there’s the speech every grill-master should deliver before doling out the hot dogs and hamburgers this 4th of July. In Independence Day, President Bill Pullman urges the entire world to unite, indivisible, behind the American flag and fight back against the extraterrestrial invasion that ruined everybody’s long holiday weekend. It only makes you regret there’s no scene in which Will Smith punches one of the invading creatures and shouts, “You just violated the Alien and Sedition Acts, bitch!”
What did I miss? What movie rhetoric makes you want to wrap yourself up in an Old Glory slanket and hum John Philip Sousa to an apple pie?