“Yes, it’s a big, wonderful country — proud of its past, strong in its present, confident in its future.”
When a man (James Whitmore) asks a fellow train passenger (William Powell) to verify how amazing their country is, we see an episodic film about various individuals navigating the American Experience — including an elderly woman (Ethel Barrymore) upset about not being included in the census; various Black Americans serving their country; a Hungarian immigrant (S.Z. Sakall) concerned that his daughter (Janet Leigh) is dating a Greek grocer (Gene Kelly); a young Jewish man (Keefe Brasselle) visiting the mother (Marjorie Main) of a deceased Army buddy; A Texan (Gary Cooper) clarifying “tall tale” facts about his state; a preacher (Van Johnson) learning to make his sermons more relatable; and a father (Fredric March) upset that his son’s teacher (Nancy Reagan) insists he needs glasses.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Clarence Brown Films
- Episodic Films
- Ethel Barrymore Films
- Fredric March Films
- Gary Cooper Films
- Gene Kelly Films
- Janet Leigh Films
- John Sturges Films
- Keenan Wynn Films
- Van Johnson Films
- William Powell Films
- William Wellman Films
This well-intentioned anthology film was MGM Studios’ attempt to portray the “melting pot of America” through various touching and/or humorous anecdotes — but the entire thing comes across merely as hokey, dated, and/or offensive (as with the segment about African-Americans consisting exclusively of newsreel footage — presumably to be able to easily cut it out for screening in the South).
Poor William Powell’s beleaguered “Professor” — forced to listen to Whitmore’s clueless rah-rah banter before he turns the tables on him and “gets philosophical” — becomes a proxy for us as we sit and watch the various stories play out.
One mildly amusing stand-out in the bunch is Gary Cooper’s aw-shucks spiel about Texas (“Fact is, folks in other parts of this country got a lot of funny ideas about Texas… How come folks exaggerate so much? It just burns me up!”):
… but the others are all pretty groan-worthy, and, naturally, white-wash the American experience so that the worst sentiments we apparently dealt with back in the day were patronizing (and/or forgetting about) the elderly:
… mild antisemitism:
… prejudice between different white ethnicities:
… alienating white church-goers with boring sermons:
… and a notion that wearing glasses is for sissies (!).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- The mildly amusing Texas segment with Gary Cooper
No; you can skip this one.