Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014

Political movies everyone should see — in glorious black and white (10 items)

By , Deseret News

May 8, 2014

This month marks the 73rd anniversary of the release of cinema classic "Citizen Kane," an innovative and influential drama written and directed by Orson Welles that has topped critics' top ten lists for decades.

Not only was "Kane" a notated masterpiece for its technical innovation (it is, in fact, the first film to show ceilings within a framed shot) but its story also caused some controversy, which ultimately lead to the film being blacklisted by many theaters. The film was forced into obscurity until a critical reassessment in the 1960s lead to a revival of appreciation for the film.

The main thrust of the film's controversial story revolves around the life of a newspaper tycoon who eventually turned to politics to feed his lust for power. The story of Charles Foster Kane, however, closely reflected the life of William Randolph Hearst, who fought hard against the movie's release.

But "Kane" isn't the only film notable for its political messaging and controversy; in fact, the black and white era was full of them.

So here are 10 political films that everyone should see — in glorious black and white.

1 of 10. All the King's Men

Reportedly based on the life of Louisiana governor Huey Long, who also served as the state's senator until his assassination in 1935, "All the King's Men" is a dark examination of political power and corruption."

The New York Times' Bosley Crowther, who reviewed the film at the time of its release, lauded the film for gathering "a frightening comprehension of the potential of demagoguery in this land.

"It catches the dim but dreadful aspect of ignorance and greed," Crowther continued, "when played upon by theatrics, eloquence and bluff."

2 of 10. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

One of the most iconic political films of all time, Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was also seen by many Washington insiders as a direct attack on the American political system. According to legend, many senators even booed a screening of the film, accusing it of having communist sympathies.

But despite the political controversy that surrounded the film at the time of its release, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was a critical and financial success.

As The Nation's Franz Hoellering put it, Mr. Smith "has the spirit of true democracy." A spirit that has carried this film all the way to its canonization as essential viewing for the politically minded.

3 of 10. The Manchurian Candidate

Based on the novel by Richard Condon, "The Manchurian Candidate" tells the tale of a brainwashed American soldier being used as a political agent by subversive communists.

While the subject matter itself was controversial enough, particularly with the film's portrayal of a political demagog reminiscent of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the most damaging controversy came after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Some felt the film may have acted as inspiration for Kennedy's assassin, and the film was subsequently pulled from theaters (though studio heads claim it was pulled for lack of interest, not political controversy).

However, "Candidate" received a revival of sorts when it was released again in theaters in 1988.

4 of 10. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

A black comedy that viciously satirized the absurdity of atomic warfare and "mutually assured destruction," "Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" was both a critical and financial success at the time of its release, and further solidified Director Stanley Kubrick as a critical darling.

But satirizing such heavy subject matter did not come without controversy.

The New York Times' Bosley Crowther, for one, believed the film to be "beyond any question the most shattering sick joke I've ever come across."

"There is so much about it that is grand, so much that is brilliant and amusing," Crowther concluded, "and much that is grave and dangerous."

5 of 10. Duck Soup

Known not only as one of the greatest Marx Brothers films, but also as one of the greatest comedies of all time, "Duck Soup" received a mixed response at the time of its release for its satirical political message.

The film, which details the mayhem that ensues after an unexperienced man is appointed to be the leader of a bankrupt nation, took direct shots at dictators such as Benito Mussolini, which lead the film to be banned in Italy.

"Dated as 'Duck Soup' inevitably is in some respects, it has moments that seem startlingly modern," film critic Roger Ebert wrote of the film. "The brothers broke the classical structure of movie comedy and glued it back again haphazardly, and nothing was ever the same."
1. Blue
Salt Lake City, UT,
May 8, 2014

The Grapes of Wrath

You Can't Take it With You

Arsenic and Old Lace


2. Hochmut
West Jordan, UT,
May 8, 2014

Let's not forget 1984 & Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid!

3. SlopJ30
St Louis, MO,
May 8, 2014

Ah, the eagerly-anticipated 73rd Anniversary of Citizen Kane! I forget . . what do you call that one? We're in between septuagennial (platinum) and dodranscentennial (diamond). I wouldn't want to embarass myself by tossing the wrong term into the inevitable water-cooler convos.

They left out oft-overlooked "Ace in the Hole," one of the most biting bits of social satire in American film. It's not quite as absurd as "Dr. Strangelove," but it's every bit as dark, and feels uncomortably close to the mark given the methods and messages of today's media.

If we're not sticking to black and white, "Network," "Brazil" and "JFK" would all have to make the list.

4. SG in SLC
Salt Lake City, UT,
May 8, 2014

There are lots of more recent (color era) "must see" political movies, but since we are limiting ourselves to black and white . . .

Advise and Consent (1962)

The Best Man (1964)

The Last Hurrah (1958)

5. Eliot
Genola, UT,
May 8, 2014

12 Angry Men