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Election Day Movies: Presidents

Posted on November 8, 2016 at 7:00 am

After you vote, take a break from red and blue maps to enjoy some of the portrayals of real US Presidents on screen.

Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for Lincoln.  I’ve already written about some of the many other movie versions of Lincoln’s life.  “Wilson” stars Oscar nominee Alexander Knox in a dignified tribute to the 29th President. Gary Sinese gave a powerful performance in the HBO movie, Truman. Rough Riders has Tom Berenger as Theodore Roosevelt, leading Cuban rebels against Spain.

Perhaps the most fanciful portrayal of a real US President is “The Remarkable Andrew,” with William Holden as an honorable accountant who discovers a discrepancy in the town books and is visited by the ghost of his favorite President, Andrew Jackson (Brian Donlevy), who provides guidance and support.

President Kennedy’s WWII experience was the subject of PT 109, starring Cliff Robertson.  He was also the subject of 13 Days, about the Cuban missile crisis.  Oliver Stone has directed movies about Nixon, played by Anthony Hopkins (who also played a memorably cagy John Quincy Adams in “Amistad”), and George W. Bush, played by Josh Brolin.  President Nixon has been portrayed in a number of other films, from the acclaimed Frost/Nixon to the humorous but touching Elvis and Nixon and the wild satire Dick.  And of course he is the subject of the Oscar-winning Best Picture All the President’s Men, though he is only glimpsed in archival footage.

The Butler is based on the true story of a man who worked in the White House for eight Presidents, and we see everyone from Eisenhower to Reagan portrayed in the film. Of course Reagan himself was an actor before he went into politics. His best films include “King’s Row” (his own favorite), “Hellcats of the Navy” (co-starring with Nancy Reagan), and, yes, “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

There are some great President movies made for television: Gary Sinese gave a superb performance in Truman and Bryan Cranston was outstanding in the role he originated on Broadway, Lyndon Johnson in All the Way.

President and Mrs. Obama were portrayed in a film about their first date this year, Southside With You. (For the real story of what happened that night, see this adorable column by my dad, who was there.)  “Barry,” another movie about Barack Obama’s early years, will be out soon.

According to TIME Magazine, Lincoln has been portrayed most frequently on screen but perhaps the President most memorable on film is Franklin Roosevelt, the only man to be elected four times, with Sunrise At Campobello, Eleanor and Franklin and its sequel, Warm Springs, Hyde Park on Hudson, and, of course, Annie!  (TIME notes that the only US President never to show up as a character in a movie is Warren G. Harding.)

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Richard Nixon: The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly

Posted on August 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

Forty years ago today, Richard Nixon became the first and so far only President of the United States to resign from office. Elected easily just two years before, he was about to be impeached for his role in the Watergate break-in and the obstruction of justice in attempting to cover up what had happened.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzXL7C0JQDM

His Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had already resigned in disgrace for unrelated corruption charges, and so, appointed as a replacement and without ever having been elected to national office, Gerald Ford became President, telling us that “the long national nightmare is over.” Nixon continues to fascinate us as a man of enormous strengths undermined by deep flaws. He has inspired shelves of books, award-winning films, and even an opera.

Some of the best documentary and feature films about Nixon are:

All the President’s Men Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in this brilliant film about the investigative journalism that first informed us about Watergate.  Screenwriter William Goldman and supporting actor Jason Robards won Oscars, as did the production design and sound.

Frost/Nixon Frank Langella and Michael Sheen star in Ron Howard’s film about the interviews that Richard Nixon thought would help to restore his reputation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP_l2IFiQzs

The interviews themselves are also on DVD: Frost/Nixon: Complete Interviews

Our Nixon The home movies and recollections of the White House staff provide the basis for this 2013 documentary.

NBC News Presents: Deep Throat – The Full Story of Watergate This is a good basic introduction to the history of Watergate.

Nixon Anthony Hopkins plays Nixon in this Oliver Stone film.

And here some historians comment on the accuracy of the film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ3b8lJaQn8

I’m sure by the time we observe the 50th anniversary, there will be more.

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