Heroes: It’s the ‘nice’ ones ya gotta watch

He’s back and ya gotta love him.

Audience anticipation is high for this Friday’s opening of “Red Dragon,” which marks the bigscreen return of Hannibal Lecter, America’s favorite cannibal. (Jeffrey Dahmer and the Donner Party are distant runners-up.)

But while auds lap up Lecter’s frantic antics, they seem supremely indifferent to old-fashioned heroics like “Four Feathers.”

This raises the question: In an era when embodiments of the American Dream — TV stars, athletes, teachers, elected officials, white-collar go-getters — are either in the midst of scandal or indictment, is it impossible for audiences to embrace the conventional notion of a hero?

When Tom Hanks is playing a hit man, the answer would seem to be yes.

But in fact, the good ol’ days weren’t that much different. Look at the list of the greatest American movies ever made: Not many people would want their children to grow up to be Charles Foster Kane, Vito Corleone or Scarlett O’Hara.

Basically, it seems, we don’t like heroes. If you continue on the list of all-time favorite films, there are robbers (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”), murderers (“Psycho,” “Double Indemnity”), gigolos (“Sunset Blvd.,” “Midnight Cowboy”), hookers (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Pretty Woman”), etc.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule — characters who seem admirable, even lovable. But are they? On closer inspection, even our heroes are anti-heroes.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Consider the following.

Julie Andrews, “The Sound of Music” — Oh, yes, some people think of her as a heroine. The movie, like the Broadway musical, was inspired by Maria von Trapp’s autobiography, so according to her version of the story, she was a sweet, perky postulant.

But looking at it another way, Maria is a woman who gives up the convent (i.e., a life of service to others) for the von Trapp household (i.e., a pampered life of luxury with a very rich man).

That scheming little minx Maria was an Austro-Hungarian martinet who broke off Capt. von Trapp’s engagement to a baroness, tore down the family curtains and drilled those kids into becoming child performers. She’s basically just a gold-digger and an ambitious stage mother. Besides, anybody who sings about whiskers on kittens frankly gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz” –Dorothy seems to be a nice kid, but in fact, her dog attacked Miss Gulch in that Kansas dog-mauling case. However, the audience is asked to hate the poor spinster Gulch because she’s old and ugly. Same is true of the Wicked Witch of the West, who is even more creepy because her skin color is different. I don’t want to get into issues of racism, but let’s give a moment of pity to the Witch. She’s in mourning because Dorothy has just killed her sister, and no one else seems interested in punishing the teen troublemaker. The Witch is only asking for her sister’s pair of slippers, but Dorothy refuses to give them up. If — as many Freudians have done — we see the Witch as a mother figure, it’s clear that the film is a metaphor about a teenage girl who feels strangely empowered by a new pair of shoes.

Humphrey Bogart, “Casablanca” — Rick conducts illegal gambling at his gin joint and he smokes a lot. Not exactly a heroic figure. But it’s the ending that’s most troubling. Some naive viewers feel Rick is terrific because he sacrifices his personal romantic needs and sends Ingrid Bergman away. Are you kidding? He can’t WAIT to put her on the plane. The scene is reminiscent of a bachelor trying to get rid of his one-night stand the morning after. He’s basically saying, “I’d love to spend the day with you, but won’t they be worried about you at work?”

Harrison Ford, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — OK, he’s charming and he fights Nazis, but this guy kills an awful lot of people for a university professor.

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