It’s not much of a secret that I’m a fan of old movies. Friends have teased me that I know the names of actors and actresses from the 1930s and 1940s better than those on the big screen today—and they’re right, I do! There’s a wholesomeness about the old movies that I love, and although they don’t have the special effects today’s films do, they do have good, intriguing plotlines.
I ran across one of these a while back and was surprised not only by the fresh plotline, but by the simple speech it closes with—a speech which is astoundingly fitting for our time.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain the plot first.
Entitled A Stranger in Town, this 1943 film finds Frank Morgan (you know, the infamous man behind the curtain from The Wizard of Oz) playing the role of John Josephus Grant, a grumpy old man who sits on the Supreme Court of the United States. All Grant wants is to get away from it all, so he takes a vacation and goes duck hunting near a small town, determined to keep his true identity quiet.
The only problem is, this small town is exceedingly corrupt, as Grant soon finds out when he gets slapped with a fine for not having the right hunting license. While settling his fine in court, he meets a young lawyer, Bill Adams (Richard Carlson), who takes the cases of the little people oppressed by the town’s mayor and his cronies. Adams is also running rather unsuccessfully as a mayoral candidate.
Hilarity ensues as Adams, Grant, and Grant’s secretary have continual run-ins with the town’s corrupt government, throughout which Grant teaches Adams to argue his cases from reason and the written law, rather than the emotional appeals Adams is used to making.
The best part, however, comes at the end when Justice Grant finally reveals his true identity to the mayor and his riot-inducing cronies, explaining why he allowed himself to get sucked into their affairs, even though he was only a duck-hunting stranger in town:
It’s only right that you should know why I, a stranger, have become involved in your affairs. Believe me, it’s not because I am a justice of the Supreme Court. It’s because, like all of you here, I am a citizen of this country. That is no little honor. Men have fought revolutions, have died to be called citizen. And as citizens, we carry a burning responsibility.
It means that, when we elect men to public office we cannot do it as lightly as we flip a coin. It means that after we’ve elected them we can’t sit back and say, ‘Our job is done. What they do now doesn’t concern us.’
That philosophy of indifference is what the enemies of decent government want. If we allow them to have their way to grow strong and vicious, then the heroic struggle which welded thousands of lovely towns like this into a great nation means nothing. Then we’re not citizens, we’re traitors!
The great liberties by which we live have been bought with blood. The kind of government we get, is the kind of government we want. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people can mean ANY kind of government. It’s our duty to make it be only ONE kind: uncorrupted, free, united! [Emphasis added.]
I almost stood up and cheered in my living room after hearing that speech, for 80 years later, it still rings true. Like the citizens of that little hamlet, we, too, are surrounded by corrupt government on every level. We are surrounded by it so much, that it seems impossible for us to do anything. So we shrug our shoulders and stop fighting that bike trail the local city council is pushing through, roll our eyes and sigh as the school district tries to push gender-affirming curricula, and let the pundits convince us that to stand firm on a certain issue is silly and stupid. We groan at corruption, but keep moving on with the age-old resignation, “What can the righteous do?”
But as Justice Grant warned, such indifference plays right into the hands of the corrupt. It turns us—the people who want to see truth and goodness win—into the very corrupt ones we say we abhor.
Let’s not let that happen. Let’s fight the giant of indifference and keep fighting for truth and right and goodness until we see that the government of, by, and for our people is “uncorrupted, free, and united.”
Image credit: Pixabay-B Me