No doubt they will again, even in the aftermath of last week's bloodiest domestic attack from foreign shores in our country's history.
In the WWI years, America was over a century old, and the movies were young. Yet they had already conquered the world; their biggest stars were demigods, known everywhere.
It's not surprising, then, that three American movie idols came to symbolize the country during those times: comic tramp Charlie Chaplin, curly-haired sweetheart Mary Pickford and dashing adventurer Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Friends in real life, the three rallied huge crowds at bond drives, cheered the troops and, most importantly, made the movies that helped audiences at home relax from the storms of the 20th Century's first great conflagration.
1. Charlie Chaplin "Shoulder Arms" (Chaplin; 1918) 3 1/2 stars
Chaplin's contribution to the World War I effort was a typical comic-fouling-up-in-the-military farce of a kind that movie comedians have been copying ever since.
2. Mary Pickford "The Poor Little Rich Girl" (Maurice Tourneur; 1917) 3 1/2 stars
One of Pickford's biggest hits and one of the key films of her career, this is a pictorially stunning near-fairytale about a bright little rich girl who yearns to be with the street kids outside. Mary, at age 24, plays a believable 11. Frances Marion, her most frequent and congenial scenarist, co-wrote from Eleanor Gates' pop novel and play. And French director Maurice Tourneur gives it a great nightmare sequence and a rich look.
"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (Marshall Neilan; 1917) 3 stars
A classic "Little Mary" film, expertly balancing slapstick comedy and pathos. Here, Pickford is the rural charmer from Kate Douglas Wiggin's bestseller, cutting capers and breaking hearts.
"Stella Maris" (Marshall Neilan; 1918) 4 stars
Pickford's most outstanding performance came in this film's dual roles: Stella Maris, a beautiful invalid sheltered from the world's ugliness, and homely, persecuted Cockney orphan Unity Blake. Both women are in love, tragically, with Conway Tearle's John Risca. Both show a different side of Pickford, who came from humble origins, like Unity. This is an almost inspired pop romantic fairytale.
3. Douglas Fairbanks "A Modern Musketeer" (Allan Dwan; 1917) 3 1/2 stars
Fairbanks' great swashbucklers came after the war, but this modern comedy -- in which he's a young Kansas guy whose mother loved "The Three Musketeers" and who tries to be D'Artagnan in real life -- is a delightful precursor.
World War II changed America and its movies in so many profound ways that they're difficult to catalog. The films now took us to the battlefields, but they also presented the same idealized view of home front America typified by the Hardy Family movies. We saw battles in Bataan, struggles in the Pacific, but we were also treated to luscious Technicolor musicals with Betty Grable or Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Hollywood perfected a kind of supremely casual comic entertainment, typified by the individual movies and "Road" collaborations of the two most popular stars of the '40s, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.
1. "The Great Dictator" (1940) 4 stars