#369. Shameful Nations

We all have that one thing we’re ashamed of. Whether it’s a guilty pleasure, like enjoying a children’s television show, or something more sinister, like breaking the law, individuals will usually have something in their life they want everyone to forget. While many of these shameful things can be common for a large number of people, when a society forms around a group of people, there are inevitably individuals the group would rather outsiders just outright ignore. These individuals can bring shame to the entire group, either through their actions or by their strongly-held beliefs. Unfortunately, because these anomalous individuals are often seen representing the whole group, shame is brought to everyone. This can be scaled up from something as small as a workplace, to as large as a nation. This week’s two films highlight shameful nations and the individuals and groups who formed them.

Year: 1932
Rating: Passed
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Crime doesn’t pay, but when criminals become popular, there’s a bigger problem with society. If people don’t feel remorse for their crimes, and if they’re lauded for standing up to a system keeping them down, then the laws that hold everything together will have a difficult time supporting a civilized nation. While criminals can be part of larger organizations, the famous mobsters of the 1920s were personalities who often made headlines all by themselves. Individuals like Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Carlo Gambino made the police and law enforcement of America look foolish by breaking numerous laws and getting away with it. In shaming the legal system, these individuals in turn shame the entire nation these laws were enacted to protect. And yet, these gangsters provide entertainment via their hijinks.

Loosely based on the real-life gangster, Al Capone, Antonio “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) is inspired by the sign outside his apartment which states, “The World is Yours.” Working underneath Italian mob boss John “Johnny” Lovo (Osgood Perkins), Tony is helping the Italians take over the south side of Chicago. Of course, just being a lackey isn’t enough for Tony. Not only does he start pursuing Johnny’s girlfriend, but he makes a move to take over the north side of Chicago from its Irish gangs. To aid in achieving his goals, his friend Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) helps Tony kill Johnny after a botched assassination on Tony’s life. However, when he learns his beloved sister is in a relationship with Guino, Tony goes insane and kills his friend, which inevitably results in the police coming in and taking Tony down.

The Birth of a NationThe Birth of a Nation
Year: 1915
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 195 minutes / 3.25 hours

While history is written by the victors, there can be embarrassing or shameful events in this history which are difficult to gloss over. Especially as time marches on and sentiments change, what was once condoned as appropriate behavior is condemned by future generations. These shameful events in a nation’s history cannot and should not be overlooked, lest the nation repeats them. For the United States, much changed in the wake of the Civil War, but the shameful veil of racism still seems to hold onto many of its residents more than a century later. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan disgrace an entire nation that considers itself “enlightened.” Unfortunately, early Hollywood did not help with this, since films like The Birth of a Nation (1915) bolstered a rebirth of the KKK that still exists today.

The lives of a family from the North and a family from the South are intertwined during the Civil War. Both families send their sons to the front lines of war, but the daughters and wives end up working in the hospitals. When one of the Southern boys, Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) is captured and taken to a Union hospital, he is stricken with the daughter of the Northern family. Similarly, the eldest Northern son falls in love with one of the Southern daughters. When Abraham Lincoln is assassinated, everyone returns home and tries to rebuild. While the Northern family makes sure Reconstruction policies are enforced in the south, Ben Cameron observes the freed slaves abusing the government and not taking their responsibilities seriously. After starting the Ku Klux Klan, Ben manages to bring the freed slaves back in line and restore order to the southern governments.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 shame-filled societies