Talk of the Town (1942). Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Ronald Coleman star in this comedy from director George Stevens...Not so fast. Grant plays Leopold Dilg, a union agitator framed for arson and murder by the boss man. Coleman is supreme court nominee, Michael Lightcap who is intrigued by Dilg's passionate, if common sense view of the law and business. Lightcap is also stunned by the cavalier attitude towards the law held by a local judge. Jean Arthur provides most of the romance and comedy. It is in my mind the most underrated film of all time. It also has a very clear message about the abuses of big business, their often all to cozy relationship with the powers that be and the exploitation of workers. And as Dilg says: "What is the law? It's a gun pointed at somebody's head. All depends upon which end of the gun you stand, whether the law is just or not."
Grapes of Worth (1940). You must be familiar with the story. The people versus the cold hard establishment, usually represented by the police but most deadly in the form of greedy banks and exploitative farm owners. Wait a second...banks greedy? Land owners taking advantage of people? Henry Fonda as Tom Joad symbolizes the worker who's essentially mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore. He's emboldened by this radical notion: "A fellow ain't got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then..." That sound downright socialist! Yes, Tom is a symbol as he himself says: "I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too."
Bullworth (1998). An already liberal politician, Senator Bullworth (Warren Beatty) veers far left and adopts hip hop music and culture to convey his message. Why not? Having put a contract out on himself there's nothing to lose in telling the truth. That's right, the truth as he sees it. The rich are getting richer, the middle class poorer and the poor increasingly irrelevant to the rich and powerful. His screed is the progressive's manifesto of rapacious rich entrenching their power while marginalizing and exploiting the working class. Through characters portrayed by Halle Berry and Don Cheadle, we see the reality of life in the hood (anyone remember when America cared about the depressing cycle of poverty in African American inner city communities?). Sothe senator doesn't just tell, he shows.
The Mayor of Hell (1933). James Cagney is a former gangster who decides to reform a reformatory school. This is a no hold barred look at juvenile delinquents and the twin evils of corruption and cruelty to young men. With the help of an idealistic nurse, Cageny, supposedly a political appointment just around for show, puts the kids in charge. He correctly reasons that sparing the rod is a good thing if you replace it by vesting the young uns with responsibility. The Mayor of Hell, directed by Archie Mayo, is a cry for education reform and against old school discipline.
The Americanization of Emily (1964). To say it's an anti-war movie would be trivializing it's powerful message. Set during World War II and starring James Garner, James Coburn and Julie Andrews, on the surface TAOE is a romantic comedy. But a few listens to screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's dialogue will fix that notion. To wit: "War isn't hell at all. It's man at his best; the highest morality he's capable of. It's not war that's insane, you see. It's the morality of it. It's not greed or ambition that makes war: it's goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we've managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we'll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It's not war that's unnatural to us, it's virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved." See what I mean?
The Front (1976). Woody Allen plays a cashier at a deli who "fronts" for blacklisted writers during the height of McCarythyism. Allen is an apolitical nebbish always looking to make a buck, fronting for writers is as good a way as any. But as Allen sees first hand what the writers and a comic played by Zero Mostel are going through, he becomes politically aware and damn angry. Eventually he's called before the witch hunters at HUAC and a radical is born. Any ambiguity about the film's message will be cleared up the very last frame. Directed by Martin Ritt.
Other recommended titles of movies for progressives that the whole political spectrum can enjoy: Spartacus (1960), All the President's Men (1976), Heroes for Sale (1933), Missing (1982), The China Syndrome (1979), Holiday (1938), Malcolm X (1992), The Strawberry Statement (1970), M*A*S*H (1970), Born on the 4th of July (1989), Boyz n' the Hood (1991), Modern Times (1936), The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) and 12 Angry Men (1957).