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As Clinton impeachment trial opens, Hollywood can remind of us heroes

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–“I can promise you one thing. I’ll do nothing to disgrace the office … .” Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”
As the U.S. Senate opened its impeachment trial of President Clinton Jan. 7, and the words perjury, obstruction of justice, abuse of power and sexual misconduct continue to headline most daily periodicals and news channels, perhaps a bit of Hollywood — yes, Hollywood — can help combat the attitudes of “I don’t care anymore” or that morality no longer has any place in our lives.
Help also can come from your pastor to the question, Are there still men and women who live by steadfast principles derived from biblical teachings? Indeed, there are real-life people who serve or have served in their chosen occupations while maintaining a regard for God’s commands.
As for movie heroes, here are some videos depicting politicians, religious leaders, educators and everyday “common” men and women who personify responsibility. They live the credo “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” rather than “Do unto others — just don’t get caught.”
— Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. (1939). Jimmy Stewart reminds us what American politicians should aspire to. Freshman Sen. Jefferson Smith finds himself fighting for the ordinary guy against corruption and the powers that be. A very moving and perceptive Frank Capra film. Mr. Stewart’s Jefferson Smith embodies qualities we not only seek in a politician, but in a friend as well.
— Mother Teresa. (1987). In a time when the media is focusing on the follies of some TV evangelists, here’s a documentary about a group of women putting Christ’s teachings into practice. A life-changing film about an order of nuns who serve mankind. Petrie Productions.
— And we Protestants have our heroes as well: Dietrich Bonhoffer: Memories and Perspectives. This 90-minute documentary features friends, family and students of the martyred theologian in World War II Germany. A vivid look at a remarkable man. Gateway Films/Vision Video.
— One Foot In Heaven. (1941). A devout minister (Fredric March) and family deal with the community and church life during changing early 1900s America. This film family reminds us that a sacrificial spirit is needed to carry out God’s plan for our lives. A fun scene has the skeptical Reverend attending his first movie.
— The Fourth Wiseman. (1985). Based on the Henry Van Dyke tale of a good magi (Martin Sheen) seeking the birthplace of Jesus, but, because of his duty to others, is delayed in the desert for 33 years, only to see (from afar) the Savior as he is being crucified. He spent his life searching for the Messiah in order to give valuable treasures, but one by one he sells his priceless gifts to help others in need. This TV-made movie is full of compassion and illustrations of how our Lord would have us treat our fellow man. Alan Arkin serves well as comic relief in his role as the magi/doctor’s self-serving slave. A selfish man, the slave is finally moved by his master’s constant self-sacrifices. The end features the dying doctor looking up at Jesus, who commends him for his offerings. Christ assures the magi that when he did these things for others, he did them for the Son of Man as well.
— The Scarlet and the Black. (1983). True story of a priest (Gregory Peck) who harbored allied POW escapees and the Nazi official (Christopher Plummer) who tries to catch him. The film is a bit long (155 min.) but the epilogue should not be missed. The lead’s mirroring of Christ’s compassion will help remind each of us to love our enemies.
— Lilies of the Field. (1963). Sidney Poitier won a Best Actor Oscar as a handyman who helps build a chapel for a sect of nuns. A gentle, sweet film, kept believable by Poitier’s solid performance.
— 1953’s The Robe has a Roman centurion (Richard Burton) haunted by his participation in the execution of Christ. One significant scene has the Roman giving a donkey to a Hebrew boy. It is probably the finest gift, if not the only one the child has ever received; yet the next day he bestows it to another peasant boy. This visual signifies, “It is better to give than to receive,” and startles the soldier into an awareness that there is something to this new religion.
— In 1935, Les Miserables provided a profound sampling of Christ’s teaching. Early on, a scene features a priest confronting French police with their prisoner, a thief who has stolen the only finery the monseigneur possesses, some expensive dinnerware. Rather than accusing the man of robbery, the clergyman announces that the thief was given the utensils. Furthermore, the priest scolds him for forgetting to take the silver candlesticks, which he then gives to the bewildered convict. Due to the man of faith’s compassion, our story’s protagonist turns his life around, serving God and man, including his long-time enemy.
— In Charles Laughton’s 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Esmeralda, a lowly gypsy girl, enters a cathedral to pray. She is surrounded by finely dressed, haughty aristocracy, each praying for their individual desires. We are taken aback, moved, enlightened and perhaps convicted by this girl’s selfless entreaties. She exemplifies Christ’s instruction to pray for others. It is a noble prayer, one that undoubtedly caught the attention of the addressee.
— The Civil War. (1989). Ken Burns’ eloquent look at the struggle between the North and the South should be required viewing, especially for teens. This quintessential documentary on the War Between the States is a moving, learning experience about the foibles and nobility of the human spirit. Indeed, it defines the American spirit.
— Mr. Holland’s Opus. (1995). Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Jay Thomas.
PG (1 profanity; several mild expletives). A struggling composer takes a job as a high school teacher. Soon it becomes his 30-year occupation, giving students a compass to life. A feel-good movie in the tradition of Stand and Deliver. It is a pleasure to view a film about a principled man, loyal in profession and marriage.
— Friendly Persuasion. (1956). Unforgettable Gary Cooper tour de force. But then, everything about this picture is unforgettable. A charming portrayal of a Quaker family’s convictions being tested while caught in the Civil War conflict. President Reagan gave a copy to Mikhail Gorbachev.
— To Kill A Mockingbird. (1962). Horton Foote’s Oscar-winning screenplay of the Harper Lee novel about rural life, justice, honor and bigotry as seen through the eyes of a 9-year-old girl. The ideals illustrated in the father figure (Gregory Peck) give each husband, father or neighbor something to strive to become. Other Horton Foote screenplays paying tribute to old-fashioned ethics: Tender Mercies and The Trip To Bountiful.
— Places In The Heart. (1984). A literate script presents a determined widow (Sally Field) bent on saving her farm during the ’30s Depression. Contains perhaps the greatest ending to a film this buff has ever seen. A repentant adulterer is finally forgiven when his wife, moved by the pastor’s sermon, takes her husband’s hand during the service, signifying the restoring of a relationship through Christ’s love. Just as we are about to put our hankies away, another symbolic healing occurs. I won’t give that one away. Trust me, it’s powerful!
— Babette’s Feast. This 1987 Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen about two sisters in a small Danish town who take in a homeless woman as their servant. A beautiful story of devotion and sacrifice urging us not to hide behind our religion, but to put it into action. Like viewing a fine old painting or enjoying a sumptuous meal, it is a remarkable example that many American filmmakers could take a lesson from. Easy-to-read subtitles.
— And last — perhaps the most significant film of all time — It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never been born. He reminds us that we touch so many lives and can have a real influence on those souls. Mr. Stewart’s character personifies a caring and responsible spirit, and his example is eventually rewarded.

Boatwright, a Baptist layman from Thousand Oaks, Calif., is editor and reviewer for The Movie Reporter, a monthly film guide from a Christian perspective which can be contacted at www.moviereporter.com.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright