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The Ten Commandments
DeMille's Vision of Moses Freeing the Hebrews from Egypt
In this Cecil B. DeMille account of the Biblical story of the Exodus, the Pharaoh is Rameses II, of the 19th Dynasty.
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Action film emphasizing internal conflicts within both the Trojan and Greek sides.
The Trojan Women
The Trojan-Greek Conflict from the Point of View of Women
Based on the Euripides tragedy about the aftermath of Troy, the film stars Katherine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, Irene Papas and Genevieve Bujold.
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King David ascends to power
A Hebrew youth rises to power and unites the Jewish tribes, making Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
One Night with the King
Xerxes finds a new bride while he prepares for war with the Greeks
This movie ultimately derives from the Biblical text in the Song of Esther.
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The 300 Spartans
Spartan soldiers die holding invading army at bay
At the Battle of Thermopylae a small unit of Spartan soldiers fend off a much larger Persian army. Their self-sacrifice allowed the Greeks time to mount an effective defense against the invading Persians under Xerxes.
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Alexander the Great embarks on conquest
Recounts the campaign of the Macedonian general through Persia into India and back to Mesopotamia.
Carthaginian general invades Italy to move on Rome
Spartacus Leads a Valiant but Doomed Slave Revolt Against Rome
This epic film epitomizes the fundamental stories about the struggle for freedom. A gladiator slave fights to liberate himself and his colleagues. Although this Stanley Kubrick masterpiece takes plenty of literary liberties with the history, it has stood for have a century as the archetypical retelling of the Spartacus saga. Kirk Douglas in the title role leads a cast that includes Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton and Jean Simmmons.
Assasination of Julius Caesar and aftermath
This Shakespeare play describes the event that led to the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Empire.
Cleopatra engages in world-changing drama
The beautiful queen of Egypt uses here guile and beauty to conquer those who would conquer her land. The film dramatizes the political intrique that brought the dynasties of the Egyptian Pharaohs to an end, the empire of Rome to a beginning and the deaths of three of the periods most powerful figures: Julius Ceasar; Cleopatra; and Mark Antony.
The Nativity Story
The Birth of Jesus
This film looks at the society and politics surrounding the birth of Christ.
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The Greatest Story Ever Told
Jesus is Crucified after He Completes His Ministry
This George Stevens film recounts the preaching, arrest, trial and execution of Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity.
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Christians persecuted in the last year of Nero's reign
This 1951 dramatizes the political discontent leading to the fall of Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors. It also represents the growing Christian faith in Rome.
Constantine and the Cross
Constantine Wins the Battle of Milvian Bridge to Assume Control of the Roman Empire
Constantine took control from co-Augustus Maxentius after having a vision of a Cross in the sky. Constantine a year later issued the Edict of Milan granting tolerance of Christianity. In 325 he convened the Council of Nicaea, which sought to provide a unified Christian doctrine.
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Attila the Hun Marches on Rome, but Spares It
The major barbaric conqueror at the end of the Roman Empire spares Rome after Pope Leo I implores him to leave Italy in peace. The emperor of the nomadic Huns had ravage much of Europe and interfered with its politics in pursuit of tribute and territory.
Alfred the Great
Alfred Defends his Realm against the Danes
This documentary explains how the Anglo-Saxon king battles invaders from across the North Sea to maintain control over his land. His victory enabled him to reinvigorate London.
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Murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury
This film, the first of two starring Peter O'Toole as Henry II, dramatizes Church/State conflict in Europe. It also shows the ongoing struggle between Normans and Saxons a century after the conquest.
Related link: BBC British history page on the assassination of Beckett
Lion in Winter
Henry II's family fights bitterly for his succession
The second Henry II role played by Peter O'Toole. The historic characters of Richard and John, who play prominent roles in Robin Hood tales, are developed in this film.
Kingdom of Heaven
The capture of Jerusalem by Saladin
Combines the story of King Baldwin, the Knights Templars and Muslim armies solidifying Islamic control over the Holy Land. The events led to the Third Crusades.
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The Adventures of Robin Hood
King Richard I returns to England after captivity in Europe
This 1938 classic of the Robin Hood legend continues the Angevin dynasty of Henry II. John, youngest son of Henry, nearly usurps the English throne while Richard is away on Crusade and then a captive of the Holy Roman Emperor. The plot of the movie moves towards the return of Richard to power and the reestablishment of justice.
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William Wallace defeats the British at the Battle of Sterling Bridge
This film depicts the fight for Scottish independence from England's Edward I (Longshanks), a Plantagenet king who was the great-grandson of Henry II. Robert the Bruce also figures in this movie as a politically ambivalent character. Wallace was captured and executed in 1305.
Name of the Rose
Pope John XXII in dispute with Franciscan order
Set in a 14th Century abbey, this book and film look at the Middle Ages just before the plague descended upon Europe. At base a murder mystery, the work also weaves in both contemporary and timeless themes such as the search for truth in the face of convention and faith versus reason.
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Battle of Agincourt
Kenneth Branagh uses cinematic realism to highlight Shakespeare's theatrical interpretation of British pluck overcoming long odds to beat chivalric strategies and arrogance.
Joan of Arc Fights to Liberate France
The motivating actions of a peasant girl who claimed revelations from saints help the French lift the siege of Orlean's in 1429 during the Hundred Year's War. This siege was part of the power struggle in France that had accelerated with Henry V's victory at Agincourt.
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Anne of a Thousand Days
Anne Boleyn Plays Her Pivotal Role in British History
Henry VIII has his second wife beheaded in his search for a male heir to his throne. Ironically, their daughter Elizabeth would grow to take the throne.
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King Henry VIII's Life, Loves and Legends Leave their Mark on England and the Western World
This four-season TV series dramatizes the reign of Henry VIII, the most flamboyant ruler of the Tudor dynasty. The on-screen romances that delight and bedevil Henry suggest how the motivations and lustfulness of an energetic king could change history. The plot twists, although full of artistic license, show how the intrigue of real life often can overshadow fiction.
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The Legend of Suriyothai
Thai Queen Suriyothai's Sacrifice Leads to Victory
This Thai production shows the romantic politics and political maneuvering that culminates in a decisive battle with Siam
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Great-Granddaughter of Henry VII Caught in a Political Web
Sitting on the throne for less than two weeks, Lady Jane Grey falls victim to the political machinations that put her in power in a failed attempt to block the Catholic Mary from ruling England.
Elizabeth I ascends to the throne and meets challenges
The movie examines the uncertainties of Elizabeth's ascension and her early years as queen.
After Years of Uncertainty, Elizabeth Ascends to the Throne
Following the early life of Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, this film reflects a steadfastness in young Elizabeth and court treachery and, in the film, her own affection for a powerful man toss her back and forth in both politics and love. With Jean Simmons as Elizabeth, Charles Laughton as Henry VIII, Deborah Kerr as Catherine Parr and Stewart Grainger as Tom Seymour, the film is a model example of good acting and screen presence from the era of Technicolor spectacles in the 1940's and 1950's. The film was released in 1953, the coronation year of Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth I is courted by the Earl of Leicester
This account of the Virgin Queen's love life features Helen Mirren who won an Oscar in 2007 for her role in The Queen, a biopic about Queen Elizabeth II.
Battle of Nagashino
Famed Japanese director Akiro Kurosawa climaxed this epic about persona, deceit and leadership with a recreation of the pivotal Battle of Nagashino. Not only did this battle set up the ending of the Warring States period (one powerful clan was destroyed) but new techniques of armed firepower presaged the end of the cavalry charge as an effective offensive tactic. This history in the film is strong and vibrant, but the story of human motivations and impacts forms the core of Kurosawa's art.
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The Virgin Queen
Queen Elizabeth I ascends to the crown
Sir Walter Raleigh charms his way into Queen Elizabeth's favor, only to incur her wrath when he woos and weds one of her ladies in waiting. Bette Davis returns to the role of QE I with all the fire and power she portrayed in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
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Samurai fight bandits for farmers in Japan's civil war period
Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece depiction of seven masterless samurai during the warring states (or sengoku period of Japan. The date is derived from the faux "birthdate" of the star, but is significant because it lies about 100 years after the beginning of the sengoku period (which started with the Onin wars and is about one generation before Tokugawa Ieyasu firmly established a stable shogunate in the first years of the 1600s.
Although the specific combination of characters and events is fictitious, Kurosawa, a meticulous historical researcher, wove together many facets of Japanese history into a period piece that is also a universal look at man as individual and member of a series of groups. This film is not only regarded as the greatest jidai-gecki, or "samurai swordplay" film, but as the greatest Japanese film of all times. It was copied as a western in "The Magnificent Seven." And notice how the word "jidai" comes to cinematic life again in George Lucas's figure of the Jedi Knight in the "Star Wars" saga.
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
The Execution of the Earl of Essex ends his relation with Queen Elizabeth
Bette Davis and Errol Flynn portray the historical figures at the top of English nobility. Their equally strong wills attract them to each other, but in the end dooms the ambitious Earl.
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The Queen of Sweden Works Through the Challenges of Rule
Greta Garbo portrays the Swedish sovereign weighing personal concerns against the good of her country and continent.
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Death of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester
A look at the decadence of Restoration England in which a poet playboy runs afoul of both King Charles II and his own good health through debauchery. Interweaves rationalist philosophies, court politics and living conditions of the 17th century.
Rob Roy MacGregor
A look at the early 18th century conflict between English nobility and Scots herdsmen. Swordplay and drama fill out the beautiful Scottish scenery.
Last of the Mohicans
Siege of Fort William Henry is Background for Historic Drama
The dwindling survivors of a Native American tribe witness and participate in the French Indians wars, watching the international and tribal politics of North America interwine with personal relationships.
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The Scarlet Empress
Catherine the Great Takes Control of Russia
A young German princess is married into the Russian Imperial family, only to beguile the court and military officers and become the great empress of Russia. Marlene Dietrich, under the direction of Josef von Sternberg, conquers the screen like Catherine conquered her court.
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Adams Works for US Independence and then Builds Presidency
This mini-series shows how John Adams lived the major values of his life. Starting with his defense of British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, but moves on to his help in drafting the US Declaration of Independence. The film dramatizes how he peacefully turned over the reigns of power after a bitter political defeat, but later reconciled with his presidential rival, Thomas Jefferson.
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The Madness of King George
Bizarre Royal Behavior Creates a Regency Crisis in Britain
As George III descends into insanity the court is in dispute over how to treat the illness and how to govern the country.
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French Queen's Life Up to the Revolution
Marie Antoinette (1744-1793) lives a privileged if complicated life in the opulence of the French court as poverty and discontent in society lead to revolution.
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Jane Austin and Thomas Langlois Lefroy in a Relationship
Based on information from the letters of Jane Austin, takes its own look at the style of love portrayed in Austin's novels.
Britain Abolishes Its Slave Trade
This film recounts the decades-long story of William Wilberforce to abolish its slave trade. With insightful looks at how much politics have change and remained the same, the story is a testament to the diligent efforts based in ethics and faith.
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The Young Victoria
Victoria Weds Albert
After a courtship full of court intrigue, Queen Victoria settles into her happy marriage with her cousin Prince Albert. A highly detailed look at the transitional period in a young woman's life and how it was also a transition in history.
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Richard Wagner troubled career begins
As the revolutionary year of 1848 closes, Wagner's new fame as a great composer cannot save him from political turmoil. He then travels throughout Europe from one musical success or personal controversy to another.
Queen Victoria Rules with Help of Scotsman
Queen Victoria grows close to a Scottish servant in her court after the death of her husband Prince Albert. The relationship, while of personal importance to the Queen, becomes a matter of concern for others around her.
Battle of Gettysburg
This film shows Gen. Robert E. Lee's gamble as he tries to move on Washington from the north. Intense depiction of Pickett's charge.
The Horse Soldiers
Union Col. Grierson Leads a Raid Through Mississippi
John Wayne leads a behind-the-lines expedition to disrupt railroads in Mississippi as Gen. Grant takes Vicksburg during the US Civil War. This John Ford Technicolor drama features action and William Holden's acting. It also shows a good part of the ensemble of players that Wayne and Ford worked with on several movies.
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The Fall of Nanjing Ends the Taiping Rebellion in China
The Qing Army and Taiping rebels fight a viscious civil war for control of central China. The Taiping are defeated and a reference to the unsolved murder of a governor-to-be of Nanjing winds up the fictionlized story of Qing protagonists.
Shootout at the OK Corral
The Earp family tries to bring law and order to Tombstone, Arizona, but bad elements are only controlled by the wrath of Wyatt Earp.
Gunfight at the OK Coral
This biopic with Kevin Costner traces the life of the legendary Western lawman. It culminates the Oct. 26, 2881 gunfight at the OK Coral.
The Long Riders
James Gang Family Politics Steal a Place in History
The legend of Jesse James (1847-1882) and his gang is played out by real-life brothers of the Keach, Carradine and Quaid thespian families. The movie is full of intense action scenes and well-photographed chased-on-horseback scenes.
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Geronimo: An American Legend
Surrender of Warrior Chief Follows Intense Dynamic
Geronimo (1829-1909) led a fierce Native American resistance in the mid-1800's before deciding to surrender his dwindling band.
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Woman Scientist Pioneers the Field of Radioactivity
The first person to win two Nobel Prizes, Madame Curie advanced the field of radioactivity, discovering new elements and ways to isolate them.
55 Days at Peking
Siege of Foreign Compound During Boxer Rebellion
Foreign diplomats, soldiers and their families surrounded in their enclave fight off Chinese angry at their presence and influence. Charlton Heston plays a US Marine officer with a romantic interest in a Russian lady, played by Ava Gardner. David Niven, as ambassador from Great Britain, leads the political strategy of the foreigners.
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Young Winston Churchill Elected to Parliament After Foreign Adventures
After serving as officer and war correspondent in Britain's foreign campaigns, Winston Churchill returns to England and wins a seat in Parliament, launching his political career.
Charlie Chaplin enters film, creates the Tramp role
This biopic shows the background of economic and personal struggles that informed the art and politics of Charlie Chaplin. Although a comedy about a comic, the film also makes poignant remarks about the arc of 20th Century history.
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Paths of Glory
Trench warfare stalls on the Western Front of World War I
The movie about World War I depicts a series of inept command decisions that lead to friendly fire deaths, an ill-conceived and disastrous assault, a fixed trial and an unwarranted execution.
Rasputin and the Empress
Mystic Casts Spell Over Russian Czarina
The Barrymore family, John, Ethel and Lionel, portray the mystic who exerted great influence over the Czarina of Russia in the last days of the Russian Empire.
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The Lost Battalion
American Forces Are Cut Off in the Argonne Forest in World War I
As part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive by allied powers in World War I, an American battalion is stranded in the midst of Germans. This film depicts their fight to survive and ultimate survival.
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Inherit the Wind
Scopes Monkey Trial
A screen adaptation of the 1955 play by the same name. Though the names were changed in the film, Spencer Tracy portrayed the Clarence Darrow character defending evolution teacher and Fredric March portraying the William Jennings Bryan character in the prosecution team.
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Howard Hughes Releases Hell's Angels Movie
The action of this films starts with a young Howard Hughes proving his genius for being in touch with the times and the market while others believe he is taking on impossible odds. The film spans across the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and World War II to show the culture and politics of America in this time of profound change.
Elliot Ness Takes Down Gangster Al Capone
This period action drama, written by David Mamet and directed by Brian De Palma, portrays the transformation not only of Federal Agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) but social attitudes towards crime, the sin of drinking and an approach to law. Robert De Niro as Al Capone and Sean Connery as a street-wise Irish-American policeman round out a set of brilliant performances. (Keep an eye on the rising star of Andy Garcia as he quotes the baby carriage scene of Battleship Potemkin.)
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The criminal career of John Dillinger
John Dillinger's tale is interpreted with the backdrops of The Great Depression, J. Edgar Hoover's building of the FBI and a love story.
Inn of the Sixth Happiness
Missionary Woman Prevails Over the Perils of War and Nature
This movie about British missionary Gladys Alyward shows the final years of an era in Chinese history. Set in a remote and very traditional town, Alyward acts against corruption and oppressive practices. But the the coming of the Second Sino-Chinese war extends her missionary work into the strenuous rescue of nearly 100 refugee children. Alyward is played by Ingrid Bergman; also, Robert Donat is shown in his final role.
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The King's Speech
King George VI Overcomes His Stuttering to Deliver Important Speeches
The personal challenges of a speech impediment as well as Royal and world politics do not stand in the way of a king's duties.
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Tora! Tora! Tora!
Surprise attack by Japan on US Naval fleet
A US-Japanese collaboration that told the story of the attack that led to America's entry into World War II. Tells the story from the points of view of the Americans, the Japanese, the military and the diplomatic corps.
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World War II naval aviation battle over a strategic island
This war classic shows the crucial victory the US Navy gained six months after Pearl Harbor. This battle, won in part because of great intelligence work and the moral and physical courage of the aviators, sailors and marines, turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. The Japanese point of view is well represented.
JFK's Famous Mission in World War II
Future president John F. Kennedy, as a young Navy officer, rescues members of the crew of his Patrol-Torpedo boat after it was struck by a Japanese ship.
The Story of G.I. Joe
Correspondent Receives Baptism of Fire at Kasserine Pass, Goes to Italy
War correspondent Ernie Pyle (1900-1945) is played by Burgess Meredith in this war film produced while the journalist was still alive but premiered two months after his death near Japan. Early action portrays the US defeat in Tunisia at Kasserine Pass (which opened a later epic Patton) and later action shows Pyle accompanying G.I.'s through Italy just before they entered Rome in 1944.
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Battle of the Bulge
US troops push back Nazi offensive
In a last ditch attempt, Hitler tries to divide the allies. This character-driven film shows the uncertainies of conflict.
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101st Airborne Hold Off Nazi Armies at Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge
This 1949 film dramatizes the struggle of a single squad in the 101st Airborne Division as the 101st holds the vital crossroads at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The film won two Oscars, one for best cinematography (B&W) and another for best writing, story and screenplay.
The Longest Day
An all-star cast portrays the fateful June 6, 1944 invasion of Europe through the coast of Normandy. A robust dramatization of logistics, internal politics and battle action.
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Navajo GI's Use Their Native Language in Combat to Deceive the Enemy
Native american's face both prejudice and the terrors of war to communicate military information in the Pacific. The Japanese were unable to understand and decipher messages sent in the Navajo tongue, so the Southwester Indians were vital is sending battleground information via radio throughout the United States armed forces.
The action in this film culminates in the Invasion of Saipan.
The career of General Patton in World War II
A firebrand US general pushes his troops across North Africa, Sicily and Europe.
Comedy About the Hollywood Red Scare
Woody Allen directs his biting humor and pen towards the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which branded many Hollywood artists as being communists or sympathizers.
Guilty by Suspicion
Hollywood Talent Blacklisted by McCarthy
Robert DeNiro acts in a hard-hitting drama of the injustice of the Hollywood Witchhunt.
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Mobster Kick Starts the Development of Las Vegas
Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (1906-1947) tries in his own way to transition out of a life of crime into real estate and gambling in Las Vegas, Nevada. But prior attachments and ill-conceived relationships prove to be his undoing. Screen gangsters Warren Beatty, Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley all received Oscar nominations for their acting in this biopic.
The Motorcycle Diaries
Che Guevara Traverses Latin America by Motorcycle
Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) and a friend set out on a 5,000 mile journey through Latin America. This trip deeply informed the future leader of the Cuban Revolution of the plights and struggles of people in the region and the dynamics of its culture.
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The Life of Argentina's First Lady and Champion of the Poor
Madonna stars in the role of the wife of populist Argentinian president Juan Peron.
Charlie Parker Helps Set a New Standard for Mid-20th Century Jazz
Charlie Parker (1920-1955) established himself as a great saxophone player, developing an innovative style. This biopic dramatizes the serious personal costs of his career.
Gideon vs. Wainwright decision
The film chronicles the events that led up the the March 18, 1963 Supreme Court ruling that granted all defendants the right to counsel.
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Men of Honor
First African-American Master Diver in U.S. Navy
This film shows the struggle of Carl Brashear to become the first African-American to become a Master Diver in the U.S. Navy. It also details the 1966 loss and recovery of a nuclear weapon, a mission that cost Brashear a leg. He became the first amputee to be certified as a Navy diver. Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro provide intense performances.
Elvis - The '68 Comeback Special
Elvis Returns as a Musical Superstar
Elvis Presley, after years of churning out predictably plotted boy-meets-girl-meets-guitar drive-in movies, took to the stage as a pure musical performer, this time for the television audience.
In short, the king returned to his throne.
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Summer rock festival often noted as the peak of the 1960's counter-culture
This concert film captured the concept, presentation and mis-steps of one of the most famous live concerts of all time.
Apollo Astronauts and Ground Crew Rescue an Aborted Moon Mission
This techo-thriller shows the teamwork, ingenuity and courage that saved three space explorers as they voyaged around the moon.
All the President's Men
Investigative journalists of the Washington Post disclose the cover-up of a political burglary.
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Labor Activist Dies Mysteriously Investigating Plutonium Processing
Karen Silkwood, a production worker at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant, looks into questionable practices in her work place. She dies in a mysterious car accident on her way to talk to a New York Times reporter.
Last King of Scotland
Idi Amin involves a Briton in his mad rule of Uganda
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Thelonius Monk - Straight No Chaser
Jazz Pianist's Career Extends Potential of Piano
Thelonius Monk (1917-1982) shows the musical world new feats of jazz genius. This documentary explains his career.
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Gorillas in the Mist
Naturalist is killed in her effort to save gorillas in Africa
The sacrifice of Dian Fossey spurred an international effort to conserve gorillas and their habitat in Africa.
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Lord of War
Arms Smuggling Flourishes Subsequent to the Fall of the USSR
This tale of international arms smuggling is a composite of various actors and incidents in recent international arms smuggling. Though highly fictionalized, it is recognized as describing basic dynamics of arms trade.
Black Hawk Down
US troops suffer a serious setback in a failed attack in Somalia
The film gives a close-up look at the rigors of war from the perspective of soldiers on the ground.
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Hotel Manager Saves People During Rwandan Massacre
People fleeing the massacre in Rwanda take refuge in a hotel.
Woman Challenges Electric Utility about Water Pollution
A clerk in a law firm follows the thread of an illness to find that PG&E was using hexavalent chromium to line cooling towers. The lawsuit resulted in a $333 million settlement by PG&E.
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