Movie Maniac

Screen sparks

Fireworks on Independence Day are as American as, well, Independence Day. They're also iconic backdrops in some memorable movie scenes. So in celebration of the Fourth of July, here is a look at some films that get poetically pyrotechnic:

* "To Catch a Thief" (1955) —Alfred Hitchcock's classic romantic caper features Cary Grant as a sly jewel thief and Gracy Kelly as a wealthy socialite/love interest.

A famous scene in the film has Grant visiting Kelly in her luxurious hotel suite one evening while fireworks sparkle over the French Riviera in the distance. And Kelly says to Grant, "If you really want to see fireworks, it's better with the lights off." Subtle!

* " Meet Joe Black" (1998) —A scene near the end of this glacially slow film follows William Parrish (an amiable Anthony Hopkins) as he greets Joe Black, aka the Grim Reaper (an emotionless Brad Pitt), to face his fate. As they walk away across a bridge, Parrish's daughter (a monotone Claire Forlani) races to them to wave goodbye, as beautiful fireworks fill the sky behind her. Thomas Newman's magical score swells as the stars admire one another's perfect pores in the magical light.

It's actually a nice scene, but the actors were upstaged with better acting from the fireworks.

* " Mary Poppins" (1964) —This Disney classic that mixes live action and animation — starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke — has a scene that features Van Dyke and several of his chimney sweeper friends dancing on the rooftops of London to the song "Step in Time." Lots of singing and cockney accents ensue, until a "pirate captain" starts shooting fireworks at them, sending everyone scurrying back down their chimneys.

The effects were animated, but they fit the film's tone. Plus, they couldn't really hurt anyone. This was Disney, after all.

* " The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001) —Peter Jackson's first entry in the trilogy has a scene featuring a birthday party for Bilbo Baggins, where the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) sets off some harmless party fireworks to amuse some children. But mischievous hobbits Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) unleash a rocket that turns into a dragon high in the sky, then swoops down heading directly for the crowd.

Partygoers scramble, but danger is averted as the dragon heads back up in the air, where it turns into a breathtaking explosion of glittering light. The crowd is thrilled, but Gandalf is not happy, and the hobbits get dish-washing duty. Lesson learned: Never mess with a wizard's stash.

* " V for Vendetta" (2006) —Fireworks that turn into letters, part one: Near the climax of this graphic novel adaptation, the vigilante hero V (Hugo Weaving) blows up Parliament, symbolizing the end of oppression with a display of fireworks that form the letter "V."

* " Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007) —Fireworks that turn into letters, part two: This fifth installment in the Potter series has a class at Hogwart's run by the stern Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) disrupted by fireworks conjured by the mischievous Weasley twins (James and Oliver Phelps). They fly through the class as they set off a magical dragon that chases Umbridge outside. Everyone follows her as the Weasleys take to the sky on their brooms, setting off a climactic display that turns into a glittering letter "W."

* " The Sandlot" (1993) —This coming-of-age story centered on a group of kids playing baseball during a particular summer is sweetly nostalgic.

In one scene, the kids play their only night game of the year on July 4 because the town's fireworks display allows enough light to see the playing field. As the group's best player, Benny Rodriguez, hits a home run, the fireworks light up the sky as the boys stand mesmerized.

And for a second, we are reminded of our own childhoods, and how magic appeared at the most surprising moments — sometimes, as in the movies, on the Fourth of July.