Last night, on the recommendation of friends, my wife and I went to see Secretariat. We both thoroughly enjoyed this wholesome, well-made movie, that manages to be suspenseful even though most moviegoers already know that Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973.
I should have realized that any movie I enjoyed would make someone else angry. In this case, the angry person is movie critic Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com, who found Secretariat a work of creepy, half-hilarious master race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl." In his review, O'Hehir accused the film of "presenting a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord." O'Hehir was bothered by the movie's quoting from the Book of Job and featuring Gospel music, and was especially upset by the portrayal of Secretariat's groom, Eddie Sweat, described by O'Hehir as belonging to "a far more insidious tradition of movie stereotypes. Eddie dances and sings. He loves Jesus and that big ol' horse. He is loyal and deferential to Miz Penny, and injects soul and spirit into her troubled life."
I saw nothing sinister in the movie. But I did sense that those who made the movie do not hate America's past, which increasingly is all it takes for those like O'Hehir to detect whiffs of the Third Reich. Most of the film takes place on a farm in Virginia's horse country, in a Denver suburb, and at various race tracks. Hollywood has long depicted the South as creepy and fascistic. Hollywood isn't fond of suburbia either, and the wretched American Beauty, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1999, even depicted Nazism as commonplace in suburbia. I am not aware of any movie highlighting the incipient fascism of Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont, but I am sure that any aspiring film maker up to that task would win plaudits from such as Andrew O'Hehir.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.