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BY John Prizer
Ronald Reagan: A Legacy Remembered (2002)
Great public figures often have humble private lives, and knowledge of their personal qualities and relationships can help illuminate their larger achievements.
This A&E cable-TV documentary shows how our 40th president helped the United States prevail in the Cold War and ignited an economic boom. Interviewer Frank Sesno, CNN't Washington bureau chief, seeks out family members for those telling anecdotes that defined the chief executive's personality.
Cabinet members Ed Meese and Caspar Weinberger and then-Vice President George Bush provide behind-the-scenes insights into the mechanics and broad purposes of the Reagan administration, and foreign leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev discuss the impact of his polices abroad.
His children share favorite family tales, while his wife, Nancy, presents a candid look at his life since the announcement that he suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Scholars continue to debate his place in history.
But on the evidence presented here, Reagan was always true to himself and stuck to his principles, even under great pressure.
Frontline: The Gulf War(1996)
As we face off once again against Iraq, it is useful to recall the history of our first armed confront ation with Sad dam Hussein. This four-hour documentary series, produced by the BBC, is the best video guide available. The program chronicles how the war began, with miscalculations in Washington and Baghdad, and was fought despite differences between the White House, the Pentagon and the generals in the field.
There are candid interviews with Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, James Baker, Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf , Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher. They analyze the circumstances that led up to the 1990-91 conflict in which more than a million troops on both sides did battle. We also watch the allied coalition's air war, its ground assault, the liberation of Kuwait and the fallout from Saddam Hussein's retention of power. It was a tremendous military victory for America and its allies in which our state-of-the-art information-age technology proved decisive. But its political consequences are with us still. (To order, call WGBH at (800) 255-9424)
Intruder in the Dust(1949)
This adaptation of a William Faulkner novel is a brilliant, stirring re-creation of the closed society that was once small-town Mississippi.
BY John Prizer
Ice Castles (1979)
In recent years female figure skating has become a high-profile sport whose major competitions consistently grab top TV ratings.
Ice Castles, directed by Donald Wrye, is a charming flashback to a more innocent time before the rise of the current celebrity shenanigans. It's a heart-warming yarn about triumph over tragedy and love conquering all. Alexis Winston (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is a figure skater from an Iowa farm whose goal is to win the Olympics. She is courted by Nick Petersen (Robbie Benson), a talented ice-hockey player. When a freak accident blinds her, she withdraws into herself, unwilling to accept her fate.
Nick still believes in her and, aided by her father (Tom Skerritt) and the owner of the local skating rink (Colleen Dewhurst), he coaxes Alexis to fight her way back into competitive skating.
The Roman Empire in the First Century (2001)
People often like to compare the early years of the Roman Empire to present-day America. After all, our political system and much of our culture was deliberately modeled on the legacy of the Caesars. The Roman Empire in the First Century, a four-hour PBS documentary series, intelligently examines both the major historical forces at work during that era and the colorful personal dramas of its best-known leaders. Producers Margaret Koval and Lyn Goldfarb combine stylized reenactments with period art and visits to authentic archeological sites and recreated locations to make us aware of the similarities and differences between our time and then.
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo(1944)
Many see parallels between the events of Sept. 11 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Then, as now, America struck back quickly and decisively, inflicting devastating short-term damage on the enemy. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and written by Dalton Trumbo, is a documentary-style recreation of the 1942 American bombing raid against major Japanese cities. It successfully captures the courage and natural patriotism of our men in uniform during that time. We watch the charismatic Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle (Spencer Tracy) organize and train the fliers. During the raid itself, the focus is primarily on the crew of a single plane commanded by Capt. Ted Lawson (Van Johnson). Especially harrowing are his experiences after he crash lands in China, which is occupied by the Japanese.
BY John Prizer
The Crossing (1999)
In December 1776, six months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the war looked like it would drag on for years. The continental soldiers were ill-clothed and ill-fed, seemingly defenseless against both the British and the freezing winter.
This cable-TV movie based on Howard Fast's novel, skillfully dramatizes Gen. George Washington's (Jeff Daniels) daring and winning maneuver. Washington's officers are divided along class lines. The aristocratic Gates (Nigel Bennett) and the fisherman Glover (Sebastian Roche) must assemble and navigate the boats for the landing together.
Open City (1945)
There are times when a Christian must abandon non-violence and stand up and fight. The evil perpetrated by fascist aggression during World War II couldn't be stopped by prayerand good works alone. Open City, one of the Vatican's 45 top films, persuasively establishes the righteousness of partisan uprisings against totalitarianism.
Director Roberto Rossellini (The Flowers of St. Francis ) intertwines the storyof an Italian partisan uprising with the personal lives of three participants: a priest (Aldo Fabrizi), a communist revolutionary (Marcel Pagliero) and a guerrilla fighter named Francesco (F. Grandjacquet). Under Nazi interrogation, the priest declares: “I believe one who fights injustice walks through the path of God.” He is martyred.
Man of Iron (1981)
Director Andrzej Wajda uses the same investigative reporting techniques that he perfected in his anti-Stalinist Man of Marble, mixing real-life figures like Lech Walesa with fictional characters in interviews and documentary footage, both genuine and re-created. he chronicles the political upheavals in the ship-building city of Gdansk from the student reform movement of 1968 to the Solidarity strikes in 1980. The movie, which was made just before the communists’ imprisonment of the Solidarity leadership, won the Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prize in 1981.
— John Prizer