After a very pleasant Fourth Of July observed with my sons, daughter-in-law, her family and a number of friends, I returned home late in the evening to relax and savor.

While browsing the TV listings I saw I was in for a bonanza if I could keep my remote trigger finger limber enough and if the TV commercial gods were willing. A trilogy of movies was scheduled that demonstrated how three very diverse movies may yet have a thread of commonality woven into them.

On Movieplex I noted that the John Goodman vehicle King Ralph was due up. That is the film in which the entire British royal family suddenly finds iteself accidentally electrocuted. In need of an heir the minions investigate all the genealogy records and determine that Ralph Jones, Goodman’s character, is the closest living person with even a dollop of royal blood.

Ralph is an ill-dressed, ill-mannered, and ill-talented lounge crooner in America and the person charged with finding the heir, played by Peter O’Toole, together with another underling, persuades Ralph to go to England and get his due. Much silliness ensues of course, with Ralph falling for a commoner, narrowly escaping an arranged marriage with a Norwegian princess, committing both diplomatic coups and faux pas, and facing off against a conniving member of the House of Lords with his own designs on the Crown.

Along the way Ralph realizes his sober, serious, and thoughtful side and, after making a triumphant deal with an African potentate to build cars and ease British unemployment, Ralph surrenders his throne with a stirring speech and passes the crown to O’Toole who, it seems, also has royal blood but did not have the confidence to place himself in position to be King but now, thanks to Ralph, knows he can handle the job.

Next up was Moscow On The Hudson, my favorite Robin Williams movie in which he plays a Russian saxophonist with the circus who defects from the Soviet Union during a tour to New York City. He temporarily lives with a black man originally from Alabama and his family, the man having been a security guard in Bloomingdales where Vladimir (Williams) declared his defection.

His adjustment to freedom is mixed, getting the good looking Italian immigrant girl and getting employment as varied as peddling silly eyeglass doohickies on the streets, a hot dog cart vendor, a busboy, and a taxi and limo driver.He misses his Russian family. Vlad encounters many other immigrants from many countries, including his immigration lawyer from Cuba.

He becomes dejected and discouraged about America when his girl breaks up with him and he eventually is mugged just inside his modest apartment building. Frustrated and angry he meets up with hs lawyer and they go to a diner where other immigrants are working and/or eating when the sound of fireworks gets their attention. It seems it is the Fourth of July, The individuals from different corners of the world begin reciting the Declaration of Independence, “When in the course of human events….” one folowing another with the next sentence or phrase. He returns home to find his former girlfriend, who had become naturalized, willing to finally move in with him.

Our third and final entry is the spy thriller, Three Days of The Condor featuring Robert Redford as a CIA researcher who returns to his office in NYC from lunch only to find all hs co-workers murdered and himself a target. At some point he contacts his boss, played by Cliff Robertson, and plays cat and mouse as it seems Redford, AKA Condor, inadvertently uncovered a rogue CIA unit with nefarious intentions in the Middle East, possibly seeking to start a war.

Needing a safe haven Redford kidnaps Faye Dunaway, holds her hostage in her own apartment, binding her at one point, and then, as so often happens in real life, the two make passionate, memorable love. There comes a violent fight in the apartment with the mailman, who, it appears, wants to provide special delivery of some deadly bullets into Redford. Naturally our hero prevails and he later has another threatening situation with hired assassin Max Von Sydow, tasked with eliminating  some dangerous elements within the CIA, obviously reincarnated from his exorcism duties of a couple years earlier. Them Swedes are tough!

The denouement is really no denouemet at all as Robertson acknowledges the existence of the rogue faction but essentially throws his hands up in resignation. This being the CIA, who knows? We are abandoned to uncertainty as Redford presumably will return to Dunaway awaiting her breathless announcement of “My sister AND my daughter

Now shame on you should you not have already detected the common thread nor seen the application of the title to this discussion.

Each of the three movies represents in fictional entertainment form the three aspects…the good the bad and the ugly…of American character.

Moscow On The Hudson clearly is the good. Though its immigrants have not teemed across the border without documentation as worries so many in our political culture, they have the same desire for freedom embedded within their souls though more likely to have immigration laws and policy and quotas on their side, as well as political asylum being their “Get Out Of Jail Free” card when they did not arrive by conventional methods. Yet the immigrants (Illegal or undocumented or whatever) who are today so routinely maligned and denigrated for the most part have the same hopes and dreams as the ones in the film. They want freedom, a better life, an opportunity to better themselves.

The most precious scene aside from the Declaration recitation aforementioned is the one in which Vlad’s girlfriend and about fifty others take their oath of citizenship after appropriate study and passing a test far too many Americans born on this soil would fail miserably. The beaming black, brown, yellow, red, and white faces, on the fresh citizens are touching and inspirational.

If ever a movie boasts a postive image and portrays the honest desirability of America herself, with a few unavoidable flaws thrown in, it is this one.

Ralph, on the other hand, at least initially is the “bad” side of America. Arrogance and ignorance are both readily on display in the person of Ralph and sheer inexcusable vulgarity is never that far beyond his possible reach as one of his first impusive acts is to visit a strip club. One of the dancers, who aborts her act just as she is to actually bare her ample breasts (Damn! I hate when that happens.) manages to charm Ralph and turns out to have more class than some of the pretenders with proper attire and twee manners.

Their off and on romance includes an incognito visit to a London McDonalds, surely the lowest crudest point of Ralph’s reign. He does prove that not even a king can get a special order at MickeyD’s without a huge hassle.

His own awakening, tinged with nobility of the not “to the manor born” type reveals a better side of Americans, the ability to express some humility when faced with reality that negates the braggadoccio and false pride. In the end the British are the more enlightened ones, Ralph is made a Duke, and he and his sweetie live happlily ever after as he sings “Duke of Earl” as the credits begin rolling.

The ugly, by default but also by merit, is Three Days Of The Condor. It exposes the ugly, often indecent side of the necessary evil of America’s intelligence apparatus, recently markedly reinforced through revelations of the spying capabilities of the NSA as well as provisions of the Patriot Act. Odd, is it not, that the story plays out against the plotting of mayhem in the Middle East, an area that still preoccupies our foreign policy establishment that quite definitely and remorsely has not learned from its prior and perpetuated mistakes in that region which are haunting us and will continue to haunt us for decades to come.

Implicit in this intertwining theme is the faux notion of American Exceptionalism. I deem that notion false in that it has been applied frequently among craven politicians to excuse all thse crimes that we as a nation commit whether directed inwardly by denigrating the poor or outwardly by virtue of its endless military misadventures and its far too often unmerited air of superiority.

Yet Moscow does represent that image, depicting the allure of America to peoples from all corners of the Earth. Their reasons for leaving their homes vary wildly but they each saw something that led them to the adventure of their lives. On the other hand Ralph is the extremely irritating but ultimately harmless Ugly American who nonetheless leaves a bad impression of his fellow citizens in his wake and by almost any definition is decidedly unexceptional.

Then Condor is the sneaky conniving, duplicitous scheming personification of America’s sad tendency to seek to im pose its will and garner its wealth where it is not needed and even less welcome.The residue of remaining resentment against our aggression still welters around the globe preventing the United States from maintaining the moral superiority we dream we are entitled to and, if ever justified in the least, has long ago been squandered as if we were a collective prodigal son not yet returned from a 65 year binge of sloth, drunkenness, and debauchery.

We need more Moscow, perhaps can tolerate a little Ralph, and need severe reforms to put Condor totally in the past.

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  • Anonymous  On July 7, 2015 at 8:00 PM

    Excellent Dave…..simply excellent! You could make a fortune as a film critic.

    • umoc193  On July 8, 2015 at 8:13 PM

      Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael would turn over in their graves hearing you say that.

    • Devildog  On July 8, 2015 at 10:05 PM

      Making a fortune is against his principles!

  • Devildog  On July 7, 2015 at 8:56 PM

    This just shows that you can take anything, movies, the Constitution or whatever, and interpret it to conform to your preconceived beliefs!

    • Little_Minx  On July 7, 2015 at 10:36 PM

      You of all people should know, since you do it all the time, dd.

    • umoc193  On July 8, 2015 at 8:15 PM

      You ought to hear how I go about deconstructing Goldilocks and Snow White and The Seven Little People.

      • Devildog  On July 8, 2015 at 10:06 PM

        Can’t wait!

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