Idly channel-surfing the other day, I stumbled on a Turner Classic Movies screening of Let Freedom Ring, a 1939 Nelson Eddy vehicle. Eddy plays a Harvard man who returns to his native Montana mining town where reliably wicked Edward Arnold is trying to push through a railroad that will deprive the workers of their jobs and take away the homestead of Eddy's father, crippled Lionel Barrymore. Victor McLaglen plays a bully with a heart of gold. Eddy does a Scarlet Pimpernel, pretending to go along with Arnold while secretly writing exposés for a crusading little newspaper, The Wasp. While rallying the workers and foiling Arnold's plots, Eddy takes time to sing several operatic numbers, as the movie audience of those days had come to expect.
The movie is hopelessly corny, despite having been written by Ben Hecht, but it brought tears to my eyes at the end as the heroine turned the workers around by starting to sing "My Country, 'Tis Of Thee." Now, I admit that I am, as Jude Law says to Cameron Diaz in Holiday, "a weeper." But as I slouch along to my eighties, my heart yearns for the days when a movie would unabashedly appeal to workers and the college educated alike against barracuda capitalism. Young people must find it hard to believe that there really was such a time in this country.
Don't get me wrong. There is plenty to dislike about the old days -- for starters, no Black faces, and women consigned to supporting roles in any serious political story. But at least everyone understood that the enemy was the capitalists, and that the secret to overcoming them was solidarity. That is not s subtle message, nor is it at all original, but it is true, damn it, and that ought to count for something!