This article appeared in Consent #4 (June-August 1988)


- Marc Emery

{Mr. Emery is Action Director of the Freedom Party of Ontario.}

There are many entertaining films around, but very few films have ever been made that feature reason, individual freedom, capitalism, and the importance of the rational individual as central themes.

Here is a review of a number of films that place reason and personal integrity in conflict with the forces of irrationality, evil philosophies, long odds, or a benign, but suffocating, collectivist apparatus.

Films not included are ones that have some characters or situations that represent major moral conflicts (i.e. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Star Wars) but the film as a whole does not represent a philosophical struggle or does not do so in a consistent way. ("Feel the power of the force, Luke", while entertaining, is, let's face it, a call to mysticism, within a story of good/freedom vs. evil/oppression).

The reviewed films articulate the conflicts of reason vs. irrationality, integrity vs. corruption, right vs. wrong and are entertaining, well-told stories.

Films of Individual Integrity

The Man In The White Suit (1951)

Directed by Alexander MacKendrick,
Starring Alec Guiness and Joan Greenwood

Alec Guiness plays an inventor who develops the ultimate textile fibre; he can make clothes that are indestructible at a reasonable cost. Concerned only with producing the perfect product and having it distributed worldwide, Guiness is entirely oblivious to the politics generated by his discovery.

Predictably, the labour unions want his invention suppressed, at the prospect of seeing their jobs threatened (while they decry exploitation!) by a product that never needs replacing. They become so emotional they hunt Guiness down, perhaps to do him in.

But unions are not his only problem. Guiness refuses to deal with the factory's owners as well, recognizing that they too want his invention suppressed. The fraternity of industrial giants conspire to suppress his invention.

Ultimately, Guiness is locked up while both "labour" and "business" interests decide what they want done with him. Meanwhile, Guiness' girl-friend tests his resolve, and assured he is sticking to principle, helps him escape. The final resolution I'll leave for you to see.

Amidst this telling satire is some outstanding comedy, mostly about hypocrisy and double standards.

The film is simply outstanding and top-notch in every way.

Boomerang (1947)
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring Dana Andrews

Boomerang is a documentary-style drama about a district attorney's task of prosecuting a man accused of murdering a priest. The D.A., played by Dana Andrews, discovers, through a meticulous investigation of the facts, that the accused is innocent, and that the murderer is still loose. Revealing this information to the Mayor, Chief of Police and other officials, he is instructed to ignore his own findings and set up a convincing prosecution of the innocent man, an itinerant no one will miss.

Andrews' job as D.A. and future standing with the city's elite hangs in the balance. His investigation reveals a web of conspiracy between the city's elected officials to suppress the truth. It seems the priest had heard many a confession, and that many are only too relieved to see the priest dead.

The pivotal scene in Boomerang occurs when Andrews faces the decision of whether or not to pursue the truth despite the rancour, upheaval, scandal, and recriminations these revelations will bring to both him and other elected officials.

Dana Andrews does a marvellous job of projecting a logical mind, moral integrity and tenacity in a heroic character. Based on a true story, this mystery drama packs a wallop.

Hud (1963)
Directed by Martin Ritt,
Starring Paul Newman, Patricia Neal, Melvyn Douglas

At first, this film seems to have little to do with philosophy or personal integrity. Paul Newman, the son of a ranch owner (Melvyn Douglas) shows himself to be a sleazy, opportunistic, immoral and fundamentally rotten guy, and his idolizing teenage nephew is slowly seduced into Newman's tainted and unprincipled world.

The stark contrast is provided by Newman's father, an uncompromising, man of high integrity, racked with rueful remorse over his degenerate son's failure to follow an honest and principled lifestyle.

The scene where the ranch is ravaged by the cattle having hoof and mouth disease (brought on by Newman knowingly buying inferior, cheap cattle), and Newman then scheming to sell the cattle before the disease becomes obvious, is outstanding. Douglas, appalled by the disease of his livestock, presents a tremendous paragon of virtue by clearly stating how rotten Newman is and why a principled man with "nothing" is worth far more than a dishonest man with "everything".

The contrast between the personalities of Douglas and Newman is what this film is all about. Douglas is outstanding in a subtle way. He exudes moral integrity in every word, every look. Newman is tremendous as a modern-day rogue son, caring only about how he can beat the other guy'.

High Noon (1951)
Directed by Fred Zinnenmann
Starring Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper's wooden acting style made me cringe in The Fountainhead, where a young, vital, demonstrative lead was required (a la Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas), but in High Noon, he was perfectly cast.

Cooper plays the sheriff of a small western town in the 1880's whose tenure in the job is drawing to a close. He has just married a Quaker woman, and today is the last day he is sheriff. At noon, his job is over.

But the sheriff finds out that a murderer has been released from the state prison after 8 years (a man Cooper sent there) and is arriving on the noon train seeking vengeance on the town and sheriff.

Incredibly, the townspeople all vacillate, fidget, and basically abandon him in his hour of need, despite his serving them faithfully for years.

All the males in this town but Cooper are variously cowardly, jealous, envious, traitorous, and/or hypocritical. Even Cooper's own deputy sheriff hates him for his rectitude, and his Quaker wife urges him to flee the conflict.

Unlike later westerns of the Eastwood variety, machismo does not factor into Cooper's character, it is simply the principle of right and wrong on which his decision is based.

Friendless and alone, Cooper stays to face the four outlaws who come for him after the noon train arrives, but his real contempt is reserved for the townspeople who lack the courage to back their moral principles.

This is an outstanding drama with a great many visual touches and nuances that show Cooper's plight, and his humility in accepting the inevitable battle that only he is willing to endure. Cooper really makes you feel for his character, and the story effectively evokes disgust towards the gutless townspeople.

(Clint Eastwood directed and starred in an effective remake of High Noon in 1973 called High Plains Drifter, but it is morally ambiguous in comparison with High Noon).

Absence of Malice (1981)
Directed by Sidney Pollack
Starring Paul Newman, Sally Field

This film is the story of the pacifist's revenge. A wrongly libelled businessman, Paul Newman, wreaks clever vengeance on the town mayor, a special prosecutor, and a newspaper reporter, who, claiming that he is in the mob and responsible for a murder, have seriously impugned his reputation and have driven a female friend to suicide.

In this modern setting, Newman uses cool logic and reason to expose the careers of those who are ruining his life and livelihood. Carefully exploiting the weakness of his enemies, he creates a situation whereby his opponents are all ruined by their own excesses.

It is particularly satisfying to witness Newman single-handedly bring his opponents to justice.

Reason vs. Irrationality

Twelve Angry Men (1957)
Directed by Sidney Lumet,
Starring Henry Fonda, E.G. Marshall, Ed Begley, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman

For a few seconds, we hear a judge's distant voice recite murder charges against a frightened, strangely ugly, Hispanic boy (about l8 years old) from the New York slums, as a 12-man jury is led away to deliberate.

This entire movie takes place in a jury room, on a sweltering, humid summer day. It is immediately obvious that all members of the jury (except one, an architect played by Henry Fonda) are ready to convict.

Fonda uses logic, reason, facts, and reality to convince fellow jurors that reasonable doubt exists not to convict, while other jurors rely on prejudice, gut feelings, and evasions of reality. Slowly, one by one, Fonda's undeniable statement of facts sink in on each juror.

All twelve jurors are brilliantly played, and Fonda is the ultimate rational man in this film, his best role ever.

While Fonda's character may use rational, cool-headed, logic, to crush the futile assertions of his fellow jurors, it is his character's love for humanity and justice that wins over the audience.

An ethical and cinematic tour-de-force.

Name of the Rose (1986)
Directed by Jean Jacques-Armand,
Starring Sean Connery

Not a classic, but a good film, the Name of the Rose is a murder mystery set in the 15th century.

The interesting premise of this film is that the "detective", played by Sean Connery, is an Aristotelian monk.

Connery is logical and rational, and attributes these characteristics to his schooling in the works of Aristotle. (It must be noted that monks were the educated elite of the 15th century society, before the advent of the printing press, and would likely be the only individuals lucky enough to get an opportunity to read Aristotle.)

Using logic to track down the cause of a series of murders in an Abbey, Connery discovers that the reason monks are being murdered is because they are reading a forbidden book from the secret library.

The book, the 2nd Poetics of Aristotle, a lost work, apparently makes fun of God. According to the movie's villain it questions the existence of God, mocks Him, and "encourages men to laugh at Him".

There are very few villains who will murder men for reading philosophy, but modern parallels can be drawn. The movie makes clear where it's sympathies lie from Connery's character and the fact the mystical villain will kill to prevent men from reading Aristotle.

The movie is steeped in style and is no action picture, but how many films offer a tribute to Aristotelian logic to the degree that the villain will murder men to prevent them from reading it?

Objectivist Drama As It Should Be Done

Humoresque (1946)
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Starring John Garfield, Oscar Levant, Joan Crawford

Humoresque is a drama of a young man (played by John Garfield) aspiring to be the world's greatest classical violinist, never compromising in order to be the best, and to show the world he is the best.

Throughout the serious story-line is hilarious comic relief provided by the truthful insights of Garfield's piano playing friend and accompanist, Oscar Levant. Tragedy is provided in the flawed character of Garfield's patron and worshipper Joan Crawford, who cannot control him or make him love her.

An outstanding score is provided by Isaac Stern. The philosophy and conflicts are clear-cut. The performances are first-rate and the dialogue is crisp and intelligent. It is a cinematic experience. (Screenplay by Clifford Odets.)

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