FILMS IN BRIEF
Begin this TV series about the Father of our country as though it were a bad sitcom, spin it off into a colonial anti-Dynasty, and then fly it into the Winds of the (Revolutionary) War. George marries a dumpy, recently widowed Patty Duke Astin and resists the allurements of an ex-Charlie's Angel. Humanize George, take him off his pedestal, even though the historical record is far from supportive of the storyline (here provided by the mediocre biography of James T. Flexner). To hell with it, we were tempted to say, we'll take the cherry-tree.
But after the first two hours the remainder of the series more than redeems the awkward beginning; perhaps for modern tastes Washington had to be made to look ridiculous before he could emerge as the truly sublime figure he was. Washington's strength of character dominates the action-from his alleged infatuation with Sally Fairfax, through the strains of generalship during the Revolution, to his refusal to become an American monarch. The series makes it plain that Americans are reasonable in demanding excellence, both of character and military ability, in their chief executive. Moreover, the viewer cannot avoid surmising that the American Founding commenced a drama, which even today continues to be played out. Finally, Alexander Hamilton's positive portrayal is worthy of note, for this most maligned of Founders deserves a flattering series of his own. Despite its shortcomings, George Washington was a remarkable achievement for commercial broadcasting; may it presage similar series.
Moscow on the Hudson
Has patriotism become fashionable and hence profitable for the movie industry? One might think so from the well-acted Moscow on the Hudson. Robin Williams (Claremont McKenna College, class of 1973) plays Vladimir Ivanov, a Russian circus musician whose troupe is about to visit New York City. The first part of the film, set in Moscow, depicts the grimness of Soviet life: brutality, corruption, propaganda, and scarcity, all watched over by the KGB.
Despite official and unofficial Soviet warnings of American decadence, the opulence of Bloomingdale's is too much; Vladimir defects and becomes a hard-working American immigrant. But the film's subsequent portrayal of America actually corroborates the Soviet charges of decadence. Indeed, the very principle of the "pursuit of happiness," from the Declaration of Independence, encourages corruption. Vladimir simply comes to accept that this nation's freedom of opportunity also fosters a twisting of the human spirit. The Soviets have their evils, we have ours (thus the meaning of the title). The best that Paul Mazursky's America can say to the Soviet charge of decadence is "Enjoy!" (Thus, the film reminds one of the message implicit early in Louis Malle's Atlantic City, where a drug deal takes place in front of Independence Hall.)
Moscow on the Hudson can portray at best a maudlin patriotism, for it concentrates almost entirely on rights and freedoms, ignoring concomitant duties and obligations. (The conspicuous exceptions to this praise of individualism are the marvelous actions taken by Bloomingdale's employees during Vladimir's defection.) Will not this film's version of "the pursuit of happiness" enervate America when it must display strength and hence call for duties?