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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of tOR and CRO editorial boards. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at [go to Liebau index]

A Cinematic Sign of the Times
“Cinderella Man’s” Old Fashioned Movie Hero

[Carol Platt Liebau] 6/6/05

“Cinderella Man,” starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ron Howard, is a film worth seeing. It’s a biopic, dramatizing the life of Depression-era boxing great James J. “Jim” Braddock and chronicling the miraculous comeback that rescued him and his family from severe post-crash deprivation, lifting America’s spirits in the process.

The film has been receiving excellent reviews, especially in conservative circles. It’s noted – with equal parts amazement and approval – that, in the film, Braddock is shown as a man of unquestioned integrity. He’s a loving husband and father, a good friend and neighbor, a hard worker, a patriot. Even as he struggles to feed his family, Braddock insists that his son return a salami stolen from a local butcher. And when his fortunes improve, Braddock insists on repaying the government all that he has been given in public assistance.

“Cinderella Man” is a good film. But perhaps it’s a sign of the times that it’s being hailed as a great one. After all, in films of the old school, it was hardly extraordinary that a hero would be honest, courageous, patriotic, hardworking and good to his family. Even “Gone with the Wind”’s (1939) “scoundrel,” Rhett Butler, eventually joined the Confederate Army and adored his daughter Bonnie. Jimmy Stewart was able to make a career out of playing plain old “good guys” – most famously in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” – as was Spencer Tracy, whether as Clarence Darrow or Father Flanigan (yes, priests were heroes back then).

Sure, there were gangsters in those days, but they weren’t, for the most part, portrayed as people to emulate. On the whole, they were vicious brutes – too fond of a drink, abusive to their womenfolk and prone to violent and ignominious deaths. Even Humphrey Bogart worked hard to break out of the gangster roles he had been playing. His greatest work was, perhaps, as Detective Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” – and, most famously, as the selfless and patriotic nightclub owner Rick Blaine in “Casablanca.”

Somewhere between Rhett Butler and Jim Braddock, American cinematic storytelling lost its way. Antiheroes became the order of the day, as films like “Easy Rider,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Godfather” and “Scarface” won media attention and critical acclaim. Men of religious faith (like Bing Crosby’s Father O’Malley) have been replaced with men of doubt (like Clint Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn in “Million Dollar Baby”). Whatever the cinematic or artistic merits of these films, they certainly lack the moral bearings and clear messages of their predecessors.

We are all the poorer for it – but none have been robbed so cruelly as the boys of America. Their society used to celebrate heroes who were “morally straight,” and elevated them as exemplars in story and film. Now, of course, the summer’s biggest blockbuster, “Revenge of the Sith,” glamorizes a young warrior’s seduction by the “dark side.”

Here’s hoping that at least some of America’s young men will see “Cinderella Man,”– and have the chance to be inspired by the kind of movie hero that used to be a far more celebrated, and visible, part of America’s movies and popular culture. tOR

Columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and theOneRepublic / editorial director based in San Marino, CA. Ms. Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at

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