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Help! Professor in need of film "hero" suggestions...


pencilographer
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Hello All,

 

I am currently developing a seminar course at a Philadelphia-area university entitled, "Quest for Truth: What Really Makes a Hero?" and I am looking for films that contain characters who struggle valiantly against conflict - not conflicts that require feats of physical strength, but rather those that compel an everyday person to dig deep inside themselves in order to overcome their personal issues or help others.

 

The main purpose of my course is to provide students with an opportunity to develop their own answers to the question, "What makes a person great?" They will be asked to explore the heights and depths of human nature, and encouraged to ask themselves a series of questions including:

 

What does the word "heroic" really mean - to others and to me?

What characteristics make someone heroic? What qualities do I value more than others?

What can I learn from their behavior? What of them do I see in myself?

Should I reexamine, change, or expand my personal definition of heroism?

 

I'm looking for films in which characters (perhaps, but not necessarily, even individuals who have criminal histories or have committed unethical actions) are faced with tough decisions, difficult situations or challenges, and manage to elevate themselves, fueled by a (newly-developed?) sense of integrity, caring, leadership, sacrifice, etc.

 

I'm especially seeking characters who would not necessarily be considered "heroic" by the mainstream populace's standards, but who you strongly feel are worthy of such a description in a less obvious, more complex way.

 

Some films I've been mulling tonight are "The Last Angry Man", "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", and "To Kill a Mockingbird." However, I know very little about classic films (not that it has to be a classic, necessarily) and these are the first potentially relevant ones that spring to mind.

 

Thank you very much for your suggestions!! Each and every one will be greatly appreciated. Even if you have a film in mind that simply would get students thinking about the nature of heroism and what makes someone extraordinary (and which flaws disqualify), it could be very helpful to us.

 

L.

 

Edited by: pencilographer on Dec 28, 2011 12:09 AM

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The first one that came to my mind and which I think fits your criteria (such as the absence of "feats of physical strength") was Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler in *Schindler's List.* Oh, and possibly Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in *On the Waterfront.*

 

In both instances these characters reluctantly stood up against the prevailing evil culture around them.

 

(...hope this helps)

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As one of the least knowledgable about classic film on this site.. far be it from me to presume to know much on the topic. And in no way am I saying that westerns have cornered the market on what you are looking for.. But based on your description, the "classic movie" western is an excellent place to look to find the sorts of charcters in conflict (both inner and outer) with story lines that show how they are called upon (either by themselves or their circumstance) to rise above it.

 

So.. sticking only with Westerns, and in no particular order.. here are but a very few:

 

Ethan Edwards.. in The Searchers

Shane.. in Shane

Will Kane.. in High Noon

Gil Carter (and/or Donald Martin)... in The Ox-bow Incident

Will Lockhart... in The Man from Laramie

Sgt. Rutledge.. in Sergeant Rutledge

 

Edited by: rohanaka on Dec 28, 2011 1:12 AM

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Here's a little list of my suggestions . . .

 

 

 

{font:Arial}They Made Me A Criminal{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Brother Orchid{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Roaring Twenties{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Manhattan{font}{font:Arial} Melodrama{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Talk of The Town{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Bird Man of {font}{font:Arial}Alcatraz{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Brute Force{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Wrong Man{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}I Am A Fugitive from A Chain Gang{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Sullivan’s Travels{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Big Clock{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Beau James{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Tales of {font}{font:Arial}Manhattan{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}A Slight Case of Murder{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Saboteur{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}All Through The Night{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Islands In The Stream{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Quiz Show{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Killers – both versions{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Point Blank{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Advise and Consent{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Inspector General{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Trouble With Harry{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Mona Lisa{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}This Gun For Hire{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Best Man{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The Gunfighter{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Lost Horizon – 1937 version{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}East of {font}{font:Arial}Eden{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}Well, this is as far as I’ll go . . . This is of course, just the tip of the iceberg. But for all intended purposes, my all time favorite film for this category would be:{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}12 Angry Men. {font}

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Wow. Many thanks for this extremely useful inventory! Aside from "Twelve Angry Men" (which is a great option and forefront in my mind, but one I believe most college students probably saw in high school), which one or two in your long list would you recommend the most in terms of potential for a wide variety of talking points? I am familiar with very few of them - I've seen almost none of them.

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> {quote:title=Bolesroor wrote:}{quote}Professor I have three words for you: Cool Hand Luke

Now WAIT a minute here, Bolesroor! Are you tryin' to tell me that eatin' FIFTY hard-boiled eggs in ONE hour ISN'T a "feat of strength"??? :0 ;)

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> {quote:title=kriegerg69 wrote:}{quote}*Billy Jack*

Well kriegerg, you DO realize don't ya that without Tom Laughlin's mastery of the Martial Arts(i.e: "feats of strength", or a reasonable facimile of it, anyway), good ol' Billy Jack probably wouldn't have been quite the hero to all those young indians and their school marm, right?!

 

(...in other words, I sure seem to be seein' a whole of suggested titles here folks where the hero is called upon to physically handle the "evildoers"...and I thought the good Professor here was lookin' for more "subtle" variations on the whole hero theme than that)

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I LOVE The legend of Billie Jean and yeah, I think that would be a good example.

 

Another movie that came to my mind, Suddenly, 1954, Frank Sinatra is going to assassinate the president, and he holds a mother, her father-in-law, her little son, and the town's sheriff hostage...and the sheriff, Todd, played by Sterling Hayden...you know this is a small town and they don't have hostage crises, but there's one now, and he has to keep everybody calmed down so nobody gets hurt, all the while trying to talk sense into Sinatra's character that nobody ever got away with assassination. What makes a hero? I don't know but I think he came close.

 

Another one, but this would be MUCH harder to find, the original 1973 Walking Tall, Buford Pusser, REAL person, REAL sheriff, played here by Jo Don Baker, who went and busted up bootleggers and gamblers and was unfortunately killed because he did the right thing. And this movie is partly based on fact, partly Hollywood, but it does not sugar coat the WORST moment in his life; when he is ambushed in his car and his wife is shot to death beside him, and he himself had part of his jaw blown off and had to be hospitalized, both in the film and real life, but, of course you'd have to get the sequel to see it but even with this, he didn't stop being the sheriff and he didn't stop helping people until he was killed 6-7 years later. And I think to know your wife was killed BECAUSE you were the sheriff and everybody hated you, would drive enough people to resign from the position but he did not, now that takes courage to go on after that.

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I recommend three movies which each contrast conventional and non-traditional views of heroism:

 

 

1. The Four Feathers (Be sure to get the 1939 version, not the 2002 version): A sensitive British officer, who joined the Army because his family expected him to, resigns his commission just before his regiment leaves for war. Three of his friends in the regiment brand him a coward, as does his fiancee. Refusing to live where he is considered a coward, and unwilling to rejoin the Army, he follows his regiment to war incognito, where he independently saves each of the three friends.

 

 

2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - a young lawyer heads west, determined to settle grievances with lawbooks rather than guns. He is befriended by a traditional Western hero, who is honest, fearless and ready to fight when he is challenged. The lawyer has only small success in his new hometown until he is forced into a gunfight which results in the death of a notorious killer. This whole movie is a study in how different good men meet life's challenges, and how the community values those different approaches.

 

 

3. Sergeant York (1941) - based on a true story about Alvin York, a man who tried to be excused from service in World War I because his religion prohibited killing, and how he behaved in the Army when his request for Conscientious Objector status was denied and he was sent to war.

 

 

I hope these suggestions help. Good luck with the class. It sounds like it will be very thought-provoking for your students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I hope this suggestion is not so very far from what you wish:

 

Cary Grant as Philip Adams in *Indiscreet* (1958).

 

He is intelligent, wealthy and erudite. Women seek his company and governments seek his services. It would be very easy for him to become a cad, bounder and rogue. He instead holds himself to a standard higher than most men. His sense of honor leads him to calculate the most effective means by which to prevent any woman from expecting more than he is willing to or capable of giving.

 

I believe the last line of the movie demonstrates why he is a true hero: when his defenses have been breached and he is made fully aware of the audacious conspiracy which led to his downfall he is still more concerned with his lady's happiness than his own.

 

It is often far easier to fight overt external evils which beset you than it is to remain a good person when you have lost to a person close to you.

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Here ya go, Professor...

 

Traditional "Standard Issue" Heroes -

 

Gary Cooper in *Sergeant York* (1941)

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/1386/Sergeant-York/

 

Paul Muni in *The Life Of Emile Zola* (1937)

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/81353/The-Life-of-Emile-Zola/

 

Charles Laughton in *This Land Is Mine* (1943)

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/1400/This-Land-Is-Mine/

 

Spencer Tracy in *Bad Day At Black Rock* (1955)

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/2090/Bad-Day-at-Black-Rock/

 

*"I'm looking for films in which characters (perhaps, but not necessarily, even individuals who have criminal histories or have committed unethical actions) are faced with tough decisions, difficult situations or challenges, and manage to elevate themselves, fueled by a (newly-developed?) sense of integrity, caring, leadership, sacrifice, etc. "* - The Professor

 

In that vein...

 

Alan Ladd in *Shane* (1953)

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/16406/Shane/

A mysterious drifter helps farmers fight off a vicious gunman.

 

Brian Donlevy in *The Great McGinty* (1940)

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/76901/The-Great-McGinty/

A hobo rises to town mayor when he hooks up with a crooked political boss.

 

John Garfield in *Force Of Evil* (1949)

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/75384/Force-of-Evil/

A crooked lawyer tries to protect his numbers running brother from a ruthless crime boss.

 

And, finally, a comedic farce made during WWII on "hero-mania."

*Hail The Conquering Hero* (1944)

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/77205/Hail-the-Conquering-Hero/

A group of veterans help a small-town fraud convince his family he was a war hero.

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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> {quote:title=pencilographer you replied:

> }{quote}Aside from "Twelve Angry Men" (which is a great option and forefront in my mind, but one I believe most college students probably saw in high school), which one or two in your long list would you recommend the most in terms of potential for a wide variety of talking points? I am familiar with very few of them - I've seen almost none of them.

{font:Arial}Other than my main pick of “12 Angry Men,” for issues relating towards a need of humanity, I would go with the 1937 version of “Lost Horizon,” simply because it was made during a time when the world was at the brink of what would eventually lead towards the Second World War. Perhaps the best dramatic and comedic choice of combining these two genres would be the classic “Sullivan’s Travels.” This is also a great film that exposes the phoniest of the movie business, as opposed to the reality that surrounds all of us. Yet, there is a very, very devastating moral point made at the end of the film or it has a rather interesting, surprised ending. This film created by Preston Sturges was way ahead of its time and one that merits a tremendous amount of discussion, relating to how society tends to see itself and attempts to function.{font}

 

 

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I think what you are searching for is a moral complexity inherent in both the character and the situation in which he finds himself and how that character may rise above the ordinary to exceed even his own ordinary standards of behavior, far above of that with which he felt himself capable, and which if considered by him would be modestly dismissed as unimportant. One who fits that description would be the character of Alec Leamas as portrayed by Richard Burton in "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold", whose final actions not only create an astonishing twist in the story, but heroically convey a sense of honor, loyalty and adherence to moral decency far beyond what he would have thought he was capable.

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An interesting western with a female hero is *Hombre*, where Diane Cilento chooses a heroic action to try to save a woman she doesn't like. So does Paul Newman.

 

In another excellent western, *Firecreek*, James Stewart and the rest of a small town must figure out how to save the town from a criminal gang.

 

One of the better reformed criminal films is *Nobody Lives Forever*. A fine British film about whether to go through with revenge is *The Long Memory*, where John Mills plays a man wrongly sent to prison for 12 years.

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Liberty Valance has been discussed a lot under the Western thread; I for one don't view the Wayne character as a hero. The killing of Valance wasn't done as an heroic act but instead to please a girl. In fact most of his actions were don't to either please this same girl OR because he lost the girl. His life after she chooses the Steward character was far from heroic. He was a bitter, loner and somewhat of a loser.

 

The Steward character isn't really a hero either but only takes credit for being one. But he is an upstanding person since he is willing to tell the truth about what really happened.

 

The movie is a great study about the concept of the fading of the western hero so it would be a very good film for people to see related to that concept even with the fact there is no clear cut hero to worship (versus say York).

 

I would recommend the western Westward the Women. Here Robert Taylor plays a complex hero type and many of the women are heros themselves.

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Hello pencilographer!

 

*First of all, let me extend a warm welcome to you as a newcomer to this web community!*

 

I strongly suggest you look at the work of director *Frank Capra,* not just for heroes, but to understand what heroism meant to him and his mass audience in the 1930's and 1940's. A decidedly populist theme runs through his work throughout the 1930's depression- the elevation of Joe Everyman, the decent all-American common guy, represented by *Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper*, infused with idealism and struggling against the cynical and powerful. (Capra was also reputed to have had a bust of Mussolini in his office. Make of that what you will!)

 

As you are teaching a school course, it would not be remiss to mention that anti, pseudo, false heroes can also be made for films by political regimes, for purposes of mass indoctrination and propaganda. Nazi, Communist and Fascist cinema all actively engaged in this. I would point to *Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph Of The Will (1934)*, which deified Hitler to the German masses, or *Hitlerjunge Quex (1933)* as cases in point. It would make for lively class counterpoint to contrast the populist American cult of Jimmy Stewart with the state sponsored German cult of Hitler Youth Quex!

 

Almost 80 years later, Triumph Of The Will is still too controversial, too much of a "hot potato" for general exhibition. I have posted a youtube upload of the complete film to my *VINTAGE EXPLOITATION FILMS-FILMOGRAPHY* thread in *Your favorites*:

 

http://forums.tcm.com/thread.jspa?threadID=161844&start=0&tstart=0

 

(It's back on page 5 as of today)

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