July 4th, 2009
06:11 AM ET

Dear President #166: Fourth of July – The Great Escape

Reporter's Note: President Obama is trying to grab a little rest this holiday weekend. At our house we are continuing with our summer movie-fest of classic films, and I’m continuing my marathon of letters to the White House.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Happy 4th of July! Your first as President! That must be a truly unusual sensation, and I hope it is sitting well on your shoulders, like a brand new suit that fits just like an old one. I understand you are trying to catch a little break at Camp David, and I hope that is going well too. As I mentioned last weekend, we are watching a broad range of classic films this summer, and as promised I will skip the presidential advice each Saturday for a while, to simply chat about what we’ve seen and some of the great lessons we might all learn from these masterpieces. We enjoyed Breakfast at Tiffany’s this past week, and we have Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the lineup, but the movie I really hope we get to while the fireworks are flying is The Great Escape. What a spectacular film! And, I must say, a perfect Independence Day movie. It has everything: Brave soldiers, adventure, suspense, loyalty, and frustrated Nazis!

But most of all, it has Steve McQueen. For my money, as respected as McQueen was during his life, he has been far too easily forgotten by the modern movie crowd. His Captain Hilts was stalking the reels of this film with impossible style in 1963; the same year Captain Jack Sparrow, aka Johnny Depp, was born. McQueen was cool before cool was cool. Or at least soon afterward.

But he is also, in The Great Escape, the very model of a certain type of American that has been utterly essential to our nation’s success. Hilts is a dreamer. He looks at the impossibility of being locked up in a German POW camp, and sees only the possibilities of breaking out.