Holiday Ethics Assigment: Quick! Watch These 25 Great Old Ethics Movies Again Before You Go Bonkers Too!


I am compiling a new list of great ethics movies to help those troubled by the recently completed Presidential campaign, the election and its aftermath. I haven’t decided whether to reveal it piecemeal, or collectively as I have before, but I do need to begin by presenting the previous list of 25, actually the combination of several previous posts. Ethics films I have covered individually since those lists debuted, like Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, will eventually be added.

For now, here’s the top 25. Don’t pay attention to the order.

1Spartacus (196o)

The raw history is inspiring enough: an escaped gladiator led an army of slaves to multiple victories over the Roman legions in one of the greatest underdog triumphs ever recorded. Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandal classic has many inspiring sequences, none more so than the moment when Spartacus’s defeated army chooses death rather than to allow him to identify himself to their Roman captors (“I am Spartacus!”)

Ethical issues highlighted: Liberty, slavery, sacrifice, trust, politics, courage, determination, the duty to resist abusive power, revolution, love, loyalty.

Favorite quote: “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” [Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)]

2.  Hoosiers (1986)

“Hoosiers” is loosely based on true story, but its strength is the way it combines classic sports movie clichés—the win-at-all-costs coach down on his luck, the remote superstar, over-achieving team—into a powerful lesson: it isn’t the final victory that matters most, but the journey to achieving it.

Ethical issues highlighted: Forgiveness, generosity, leadership, kindness, courage, loyalty, diligence, redemption.

Favorite quote: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.” [ Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)]

3. Babe (1995)

A wonderful movie about the virtues of being nice, the greatest civility film of all time. Second place: “Harvey.”

Ethical issues highlighted: Civility, kindness, reciprocity, loyalty, courage, love, friendship, bigotry, bias.

Favorite quote: “Fly decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid, and there was nothing that could convince her otherwise…The sheep decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves were ignorant, and there was nothing that could convince them otherwise”  The Narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne) Continue reading

Ten Movies For Independence Day Weekend


I wasn’t going to do this until I ran across a few lists of “Most Patriotic  Films” that made me fear for the taste and the values of my fellow citizens. “Independence Day” ? “Armageddon”? “Rocky IV”?  When did “patriotic” start meaning “crappy”? “Born on the Fourth of July”? If Oliver Stone is your idea of patriotic fare, you and I are going to have a problem.

Here is my very personal list of ten favorite films that bring a patriotic lump to my throat and a remind me of how lucky I am to be born and raised in the U.S.A. Don’t mind the order: it was hard enough narrowing the list down to ten.

1. Apollo 13  (1995)

The only one of the movies on my list that I saw on the others today. Like many of the films here, it makes me wistful for American boldness and confidence that seem to be in retreat today. When the  Apollo re-emerges from radio silence, and Tom Hanks says, with perfect inflection, “Hello, Houston. This is Odyssey. It’s good to see you again,” I lose it, every time.

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Yes, this is Capra-corn at its corniest, but from Harry Carey Sr.’s sage and heroic Vice -President, to the power of the people triumphing, to the press trying to expose corruption rather than abet it,  this film reminds us of the best ideals of our government. When we get too cynical to enjoy Jefferson Smith’s struggle to make Washington work the way its supposed to, it will be time to pack it in.

3. The Longest Day (1962)

Longest Helm

Yes, it’s not just about Americans, but it is a great film about one of our country’s  finest achievements, all true, and inspiring without a lot of flag waving and sentiment. Best war movie ever—and my Dad’s favorite. Continue reading

Ethics Note To Senator Cruz: You Can’t Begin A Principled Stand With A Lie

Little is more damaging to the public’s trust and faith in government than when elected officials engage in gratuitous lies—statements that can only convince those who don’t bother to check the facts underlying them, made for their momentary impact on the theory that the effect is worth the eventual exposure of the lie for what it is. Such lies are detestable, because they not only reinforce the impression that politicians lie when their lips are moving, they also convey the message that lies are merely tools of the politicians trade, and not even particularly shameful or worthy of criticism. When a politician engages in such transparent dishonesty, he or she is saying, quite literally, that lying is no big deal.

It is a big deal. It is especially a big deal when the point of the lie is to fool the public into believing something the politician is doing is a big deal itself, when it is really a sham.

Welcome to Sen. Ted Cruz and his fake filibuster, also known as Ted Cruz’s Bad Jimmy Stewart Impression.

"Ted, I knew Mr. Smith, and you're no Mr. Smith. You're not even Rand Paul..."

“Ted, I knew Mr. Smith, and you’re no Mr. Smith. You’re not even Rand Paul…”

Evoking memories of the Frank Capra classic, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” Sen. Cruz told the world that he was going to talk on the floor of the Senate against Obamacare until he couldn’t stand any more…you know, just like the Jimmy’s idealistic junior Senator in the film, who finally collapses of exhaustion to end his filibuster but whose courage makes the corrupt, manipulating senior Senator from his state confess that he was trying to fund a lousy health care b…no, wait, it had something to do with a kids camp and influence peddling. I haven’t seen the film in a while.

Cruz, however, unlike Stewart, is not engaging in a filibuster, because he is not trying to block a vote or anything else: Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote on funding the Affordable Care Act for today, whereupon Cruz has to sit down and shut up whether he can still stand or not. Continue reading

Rand Paul’s Dumb, Wasteful and Irresponsible Fillibuster

The sequel, "Mr. Smith Gets Stupid" was not a success.

The sequel, “Mr. Smith Gets Stupid” was not a success.

Sen. Rand Paul proved to my satisfaction that he doesn’t have the intellectual chops to be a U.S. Senator with his foolish argument in 2010 that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional, while suggesting that he would have voted against it. (For the record, Paul’s been targeted on Ethics Alarms for various ethics transgressions five times since 2010. He is not our favorite Senator.) You can hide IQ inadequacies a long time on Capitol Hill—look at Joe Biden—but those missing points are telling at the moment, as Paul stages an embarrassing, silly, and wasteful filibuster in the old style, doing his best “Mr. Smith” impression to block the inevitable confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director.

Sen. Paul says he’ll talk until he drops or until the Obama administration states definitively that it doesn’t have the right to “kill an American on American soil.” Why is this such a high priority for Paul? Eric Holder answered his office’s query on the topic with this eminently reasonable response, which Paul has managed to completely misconstrue. Holder said in part, Continue reading

My 15 Hollywood Cures For A Paterno-Penn State-Sandusky Hangover, Part 1

For this hangover, movies work better.

The past week, as much as any week within memory, has caused me to despair about the culture, the state of ethical values in America, and my own futile efforts to try to bring some light to the darkness. My mood was not only ravaged by the Penn State scandal (and Penn State’s students’ scandalous reaction to it), but also the continued drift and incompetence in our government and the lack of any apparent leadership or courage to address the problems of our economic system, other than to complain about them.

In such times—there have been others, though happily not many—my spirit urgently needs an infusion of inspiration and hope, and fast: as Al Pacino reminds us in “Scent of a Woman,” there is no prosthesis for an amputated spirit. This is when I turn to the movies that speak to me of courage, redemption, and ethical virtues validated. They are my lifeline; I can’t write or think about ethics from the bottom of a pit. I’ve got only a few days before Thanksgiving, after all. This is no time to be cynical and dubious about the course of humanity and the United States of America, a nation I love and admire.

Thus I am going to take a brief detour from the usual format of Ethics Alarms, with your leave and forgiveness, and share with you the fifteen movies that I will turn to as I try to recharge my enthusiasm, inspiration, and hope. Here are 1 though 7; the rest will be along shortly:

1. A Man For All Seasons (1966)

Hardly the most upbeat film to start the list, but probably the greatest ethics movie ever made.

Ethical issues highlighted: Integrity, honesty, courage, leadership, corruption, abuse of power.

Favorite quote: “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?” [Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield)] Continue reading

Remember Davy Crockett (and thank you, Fess Parker!)

If you don’t remember Fess Parker, who died this week as an 85-year-old winery owner, you missed the Fifties. Parker played Davy Crockett in Walt Disney’s TV miniseries about the lively Tennessee frontiersman, and did it with such sincerity and style that he not only turned coonskin caps into a national craze, he also rescued Davy Crockett from creeping obscurity. Continue reading