Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two Movies That Should Be Compulsory Viewing for Anyone Thinking of Getting Into Politics

Andrea and I both love old movies - she thinks that Turner Classic Movies is the best channel on television - nothing else comes close. Old movies have it all - original plots, excellent writing, terrific acting, and often, good life lessons. I thought it would be a nice break in the usual blogging to talk about a couple of our favourites that have good life lessons for people interested in politics, plus they're both great movies.

The first - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Jimmy Stewart plays an idealistic young newspaper publisher who is appointed junior senator to finish the term of a senator who suddenly died. He goes in full of visions of what a wonderful system democracy is, and decides to use his time there to create a camp for boys back in his home state. Little does he know that the powerful business backers of the senior senator (played by Claude Rains, another fabulous actor) want this land as part of a rather shady deal that he's been putting together.

The senior senator does everything he can to distract Jimmy Stewart from his goal - wise counsel, beautiful women, parties, trying to persuade him that he doesn't have enough time to accomplish his goal. Nothing works, but Jimmy gets suspicious, and with the help of his senatorial aide, finds out the truth. When he starts asking questions, the political machine starts its work to shut him down, mobilizing newspapers and public opinion to try to convince him to stop asking questions and finding out about backroom deals, demanding his resignation - they have money, they have connections, they have power. Poor Jimmy, new to the system, just has Jean Arthur and his principles keeping him going. But he doesn't quit.

Favourite line? After someone in the senate yells at him to give it up, it's a lost cause: "Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for."

The second movie recommendation isn't as directly about the political system, but it does have a lot to say about power and its potential for corruption, particularly if people are afraid to speak up - On the Waterfront (1954). Marlon Brando plays Terry Malloy, a former boxer who's a low level thug in his union. Involved in trying to keep another union member from speaking to a public commission investigating union corruption, he is appalled when the man is killed to keep him from testifying. When he shares his concerns with his brother (Rod Steiger), one of the union's lawyers, his brother tells him to keep quiet, and the head of the union, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), gets him a cushy job on the loading dock. But when he meets the sister of the man who was killed (Eva Marie Saint), he can no longer keep quiet. He then becomes a target when it becomes known that he will testify - his brother is killed for not bringing him in to be killed, and Marlon and Eva are chased by a truck through a narrow alley. He testifies anyway, at which point Johnny Friendly tells him that he's through - he won't be able to get a job on any dock in the country. Marlon stands up for his rights, gets the crap beaten out of him because none of the other workers will stand up for him, even though you can see them agonize over not coming to his rescue. He is a mass of bruises and blood and can barely walk, but he still doesn't give in, and the moral tide turns.

Favourite line? When Johnny Friendly is threatening him, backed by his team of thugs: "Your guts is all in your wallet and your guns."

Two great movies that illustrate the importance of standing up for your principles, because in the end, personal integrity is all that one has. I encourage you to give them a look.

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock: in matters of taste, swim with the current." - Thomas Jefferson

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