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:
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 highlighted: altruism, bullying, charity, courage, integrity, teamwork and the importance of prioritizing values.
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.]