"If you want to send a message," movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn advised filmmakers, "call Western Union."

Though most movie producers and directors deny that they like to send messages in their productions, they do it all the time, writes Tim Cavanaugh in the 5/02 issue of Reason magazine.

Recent message movies, Cavanaugh writes, include Erin Brokovich (corporate pollution), Traffic (war against drugs), The Insider (big tobacco), The Siege (rounding up of Arab), and John Q (need for socialized medicine).

Cavanaugh traces the birth of the modern message movie to Elia Kazan's 1947 film Gentleman's Agreement, which lectured on the dangers of hatred of Jews. Soon after came such didactic movies as Home of the Brace (racism in the armed forces) and Boomerang! (judgmentalism).

Cavanaugh writes that producer/director Stanley Kramer served up more homilies than Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, including The Defiant One (we're all brothers), On the Beach (against nuclear war) and Home of the Brave (we're all brothers).

Sidney Lumet directed Twelve Angry Men (social justice), Serpico (corrupt cops) and Network (kill your television).

Despite occasional efforts like Norma Rae, moralistic entertainment switched to television during the 1970s. Movies of the week preached about racism, AIDS, gays, deadbeat dads, bulimia, etc... Now we have a resurgence of Hollywood message films on liberal themes.

"Ed Zwick, the producer/director who alternates short-lived TV entertainments (Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life) with solmen celluloid encyclicals on race (Glory), civil liberties (The Siege), and mentally retarded parenting (I Am Sam), is a dead ringer for Stanley Kramer. Denzel Washington is our Sidney Poitier, the handsome everyman who nobly serves as conscience of the nation. Steven Soderbergh, the technically proficient director of Erin Brockovich and Traffic, could be the second coming of Sidney Lumet, or...Kazan...

"Hollywood dilettantes are a particularly ill-chosen group of spokespeople for uninsured families, oppressed minorities, and other huddled masses; the reliance on statistics and abstracts, rather than drama, to deliver messages may be an indication of just how far...Tinseltown is from the people for whom it speaks."