Filmmakers know they can snag an audience by appealing to their sense of patriotism. The most notable patriotic movies that stand the test of time are pretty straightforward: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Independence Day, 1776, Rocky IV, etc. There are many other movies that faded into the mist because they were riding a trend that passed. A story that illustrates America’s mood one year will appear as ridiculous propaganda when the political winds change.
In 1933’s Gabriel Over the White House, President Judson Hammond (played by Walter Huston), having been possessed by the Angel Gabriel, brings the Depression to an end by dissolving the Legislative and judicial branches of the federal government, concentrating all political power within himself. He then declares martial law, single-handedly battles the mob, puts the Army of the Unemployed to work on a public works project, and uses the threat of military force to strong arm the other nations of the world into signing a peace treaty. Made in the depths of the Great Depression and confronting many of the problems facing Americans at the time, it’s all portrayed as a very good thing.
Upon seeing it, an historian I know noted that it was the only film he could think of in which fascism, was presented not only as a cure for America’s troubles, but as a force of goodness and light working to protect the common man.
The film’s message was a popular one upon its initial release, but then that damn Hitler had to come along and ruin everybody’s dream. Warner Brothers pulled the film out of circulation for the next 70 years.
In other eras, different ideas of patriotism could appeal to different audiences at the same time. In the very politically-dvided year of 1968, moviegoers could see both The Green Berets and The Legend of Billy Jack. Fifty years on, both films come off as overlong sermons about right and wrong. Den of Geek takes a look at quite a few of those movies considered patriotic in their day, but are kind of creepy when you see them now.