Ten More Hollywood Ethics Cures For A Post-Election Hangover (Part I)

A year ago, the combination of the erupting Penn State scandal (and Penn State’s students’ scandalous reaction to it) and our dysfunctional government led me to list my “15 Hollywood Cures…,” my favorite movies dealing with ethics themes that I reflexively turn to when the world’s ethics alarms look frozen and broken. I had to leave some of the best ethics films off that list (Part I is here; Part II is here), and this seems like a good time to remedy that injustice. Here are ten more excellent films to prime our ethics alarms with minimal preaching and maximum entertainment value, bringing the Ethics Alarms movie list to 25. It will get larger, I’m sure:

1. The Magnificent  Seven (196o)

Ethics Bob Stone’s favorite ethics movie, and he has a good case. A group of seven hired gunslingers help an impoverished Mexican town fight off looting bandits, each of the seven for a different reason, facing their own ethical dilemmas and contradictions.

Ethical issues highlightedaltruism, bullying, charity, courage, integrity, teamwork and the importance of prioritizing values.

Favorite quote:

Harry (Brad Dexter): “There comes a time to turn mother’s picture to the wall and get out. The village will be no worse off than it was before we came.”

Chris (Yul Brenner): “You forget one thing — we took a contract.”

Vin (Steve McQueen): “It’s not the kind any court would enforce.”

Chris: “That’s just the kind you’ve got to keep.”

2. To Kill A Mockingbird  (1962)

I caught Hell from my wife for not putting this on the first list. Gregory Peck’s small town lawyer is the model for everyone who feels that they are right and everyone else is wrong, but who needs to learn to treat the rest of the world with fairness and tolerance anyway, and to keep fighting the good fight for the right values.

Ethical issues highlighted: community ethics and culture, racism, bias, honesty, integrity, kindness

Favorite quote: ” If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck]

3. High Noon (1952)

“High Noon” is a Western that shows the American people at their worst, refusing to help a single law man threatened on his wedding day, and cringing in fear and denial when their values need to be fought for. In the center of the storm is an ordinary man determined to do his duty, even as those he will be risking his life for seem increasingly unworthy of his dedication.

Ethical issues highlighted: Courage, rationalizations, betrayal, ethical conflict, faith vs. action, duty, the rule of law.

Favorite quote: ” The commandments say ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but we hire men to go out and do it for us. The right and the wrong seem pretty clear here. But if you’re asking me to tell my people to go out and kill and maybe get themselves killed, I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry. ”  Dr. Mahin, the minister, when Sheriff Will Cain (Gary Cooper) comes to the church to beg for help against the four killers coming to town.

4. The Godfather (Part 2) (1974)

A  movie that is about how unethical conduct takes over lives and cultures, the sequel to “The Godfather” traces how the Mafia began as a system of protection and security from neighborhood thugs and bullies, and then metastasized, though greed, self-delusion and lust of power, into something more vicious and evil than what it was created to combat.

Ethical issues highlighted: trust, betrayal, revenge, corruption, “the ends justify the means,” rationalizations, the slippery slope, ethical culture, abuse of power, hypocrisy

Favorite quote: ” I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies ”  Michael Corleone (Al Pacino)

5. Breaker Morant  (1980)

Based on a true story, “Breaker Morant” addresses the ethical dilemma of the ordinary soldier in battle, and compels the audience to see itself from the point of view of the doomed defendants.

Ethical issues highlighted: war, war crimes, codes of conduct, fairness, justice, self-defense, duty, submitting to authority, morality, judgment, mercy, hypocrisy

Favorite quote: “The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations, situations in which the ebb and flow of everyday life have departed and have been replaced by a constant round of fear and anger, blood and death. Soldiers at war are not to be judged by civilian rules, as the prosecution is attempting to do, even though they commit acts which, calmly viewed afterwards could only be seen as unchristian and brutal. And if, in every war, particularly guerrilla war, all the men who committed reprisals were to be charged and tried as murderers, court martials like this one would be in permanent session, would they not?”  Major J.F. Thomas  (Jack Thompson)

[ 6-10 continues here.]

14 thoughts on “Ten More Hollywood Ethics Cures For A Post-Election Hangover (Part I)

  1. “High Noon” is the values motion picture for our time. A scared and divided American public knows that ruin and subjugation approaches, but try to deny it; hiding behind the facade of normal life in normal days. They also deny the man who tells them that, if they cringe and submit, their fate is worse than death in resistance. But this time, enough will listen to where Sheriff Cain will not have to fight alone against tyranny. The criminal invaders are an unchecked federal government; armed with not only weapons, but with the chains of slavery. The townspeople are the deluded citizens of America, who are only just beginning to realize that their world has changed and their freedoms under the Constitution- long taken for granted- are about to dissolve. Sheriff Cain is the free, sovereign State of Texas.

      • He was technically no longer the sheriff during the entire conflict with the thugs. He merely had to assume to role of Sheriff as the only one willing to wear the badge because no one else would stand up to protect themselves. I don’t think tossing the badge in the sand was disdain for the system as much as it was disdain for people unwilling to help themselves.

        • It was certainly seen as both at the time. The movie is affirmatively strange, like a Twilight Zone episode. That town acts like aliens have taken it over, and I agree that seen through a political lens, it’s something of an anti-American movie—and, of course, it was a product of the blacklist. “Rio Bravo”, the John Wayne reverse “High Noon” (and near-comedy) that was made to some extent in response, is also a great movie, but not so much an ethics film. ( Wayne’s lawman keeps insisting he doesn’t want or need help, and everyone in the town keeps bailing him out anyway.)

        • If he was previously the sheriff, the last person to serve as the sheriff, acting as the sheriff, wearing the badge of the sheriff, being called “Sheriff” and nobody else had been appointed as sheriff—Will Cain was the sheriff. he had apparent and actual authority.

    • Only if you understand Japanese. But seriously folks, I think they are different in material ways, with Japanese culture in one and American culture in the other. The Samurai are more communal, the gunslingers are essentially loners. Nobody in the American version is as much fun as Toshiro Mifune, and nobody in the original is as lame as Horst Bucholtz. Then again, there’s no Japanese equivalent of Robert Vaughn’s brooding, burn-out case, and he’s my fave. Plus the Magnificent 7 is half as long as the original. I love the Samurai, but Yul, McQueen and the boys are more fun—AND ethical.

      • The samurai are more communal? The way the lone samurai and (really) ronin come together for lack of pay is a thing of beauty that’s just as contrary to norms as gunfighters coming together.

        It’s possible that I have a major soft spot for Kurosawa’s directorial skills and that Mifune is my favorite non-American actor, but trying to strip out my bias as much as possible… I still can’t take the Magnificent Seven. It’s not like it’s bad, I just don’t think it’s quite as good.

        • I would never argue objectively that TM7 is truly superior to the Kurasawa film. I think its a better ethics film, and it has a lot of features that I personally like—I love Westerns, I love McQueen, Wallach, Coburn and Bronson; I really admire the script, and Sturges’ sly homages to the original, which I never got until I saw 7 Samurai in a theater. Casting Yul Brenner in a Western made no sense unless you knew the original model—it’s pretty funny, really. I don’t think “A Bug’s Life” is as good as either, but it’s pretty good too.

    • I hate it when I have to agree with you! My favorite character was the quiet samurai who did his duty stoically and efficiently… and died doing so, as he knew he would. He was, of course, the template for James Coburn’s character in “The Magnificent Seven”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.