On July 4 nothing caps a day of parades and barbecues like a movie that celebrates America at its best. For this Independence Day, we offer these recommendations for seven family-friendly Fourth of July movies that portray how the military builds character and changes lives in the spirit of why this country was founded.
First, a cartoon. In this patriotic 1938 Warner Bros. animated short, a bored Porky Pig falls asleep while trying to learn the Pledge of Allegiance. He has a star-spangled dream in which Uncle Sam gives him a first-hand history lesson that illustrates what those words mean.
This classic 1941 service comedy is on the list because my father, a WWII veteran, told me that servicemen got a tremendous lift out of Abbott & Costello hilariously making life miserable for their sergeant. But at the heart of this film is the redemption of a wealthy playboy who thinks only of himself until he learns to put his company first and fulfills his officer potential.
“I’m a civilian, not a Marine,” insists Pfc. Conway (John Agar) in this classic 1949 war film. But that’s before he serves under Sgt. John Stryker (John Wayne), who commands the rifle squad. “You’re gonna learn right and you’re gonna learn fast,” he barks. The arrogant Conway resists him at every turn, but he learns. This is one of the Duke’s best; it earned him a nomination for an Academy Award!
Normally, Charlton Heston isn’t the first person you’d cast for a comedy, but he’s great here as a strict taskmaster whose insubordination gets him sent to a military academy for young boys. They initially rebel against Major Benson’s strict command, but both sides come to an understanding and appreciation of each other. Screen icon Heston, Ben-Hur and Moses himself, is no match for little Tim Hovey as an adorable recruit, who steals his every scene.
Disney’s live-action 1957 classic adaptation of Esther Forbes’ novel tells the thrilling story of a young silversmith’s apprentice who joins the Sons of Liberty after a terrible accident ends his career. Johnny finds himself at the center of pivotal events in America’s struggle for independence, including the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s midnight ride, and the battle at Lexington Green, which launched the American Revolutionary War.
Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket isn’t at all family-appropriate viewing. Try this 1957 drama starring Jack Webb (best remembered as Sgt. Joe “Just the Facts” Friday on Dragnet) as a hard case drill instructor whose new recruit, a pampered malcontent, puts him to the test. Guess who prevails?
Military misfits are always good for a laugh, but in these 80s comedies, Bill Murray’s slacker Army cadet John Winger and Goldie Hawn’s pampered princess Judy Benjamin learn about discipline, duty, honor, courage, and being the best that they can be. And that’s the fact, Jack. (Both are rated R, mainly for language and rude humor).