Movie review: ‘All the President’s Men’

I recently watched “All the President’s Men” again and it is as obvious today as then why it won four Oscars and was nominated for four others. It is just a superior film about a very controversial time in our nation’s history. However, it is the remarkable job by the cast – which has strength throughout – under the direction of Alan J. Pakula that shines through even today. “All the President’s Men” could be remade, but I’m not sure why. Today it would be a “period piece” and would get an Oscar nomination for set design (kind of like the rave reviews for the “Mad Men” sets and costumes on that popular TV series set in the early 1960s) … when all you have to do is look at the original to see the real thing.

‘All the President’s Men’
(1976; 138 minutes; rated R; directed by Alan J. Pakula and starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards and Jane Alexander)

UNCOVERING THE DIRT OF A PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENCY

(NOTE: I expanded this review with more opinion, additional trivia and the updating of links on Dec. 8, 2017.)

It has been two generations and an untold number of scandals in Washington D.C. since the release of “All the President’s Men” in 1976 and time hasn’t diminished the luster of this Oscar winner. It won four and was nominated for four others and is a true showcase of talent for supporting actor Jason Robards, who won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

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It’s strange to write in some reviews that the headliners’ work doesn’t shine as brightly as it could because of the supporting cast, but the superior work of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein is obvious because the supporting cast stands shoulder to shoulder with them – especially Robards followed by Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook and Jane Alexander, who was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for her work here.

NOTE: In previous reviews where actors portray real people, I have put quotation marks around name (“like this”). In this review, I’m using the names without the quotation marks.

atpm_other3Of course, “All the President’s Men” is the story of how two reporters were the key players in the investigation that ultimately exposed the lies and skullduggery of President Richard Nixon and his sleazy cronies. The screenplay by William Goldman, which won him an Oscar for adapted screenplay, is, of course, based on the Woodward and Bernstein non-fiction book of the same name (it’s cover is at right).

Goldman takes time to explain nuance without dragging the pace of the film. From a basic start, “All the President’s Men” builds tension easily and things just roll faster and faster.

It is Robards’ character and how he plays it that makes the biggest difference in the film. He starts out as a somewhat distant figure but through a variety of situations, you learn not just about his character as an elite editor but also as a human being. It couldn’t have been easy for Robards, who gives screen life to even Bradlee’s physical mannerisms (at least I hope they’re accurate).

Here’s a rundown of the principal cast:

  • Oscar winner (not for this one) Redford is the lead co-star here and he does such a smooth and apparently effortless piece of work that it can be difficult to realize just how good an actor he is. He plows through the role of Woodward with aplomb and it’s too bad that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar here. Redford has also been in “The Electric Horseman” (click here for my review) and “The Hot Rock” (click here for my review), which was also adapted to the screen by Goldman. He won his Oscar as a director (“Ordinary People”) and has been twice nominated. Actually, I like him best in the spy classic “Three Days of the Condor” (click here for my review).
  • Two-time Oscar winner (and five-time nominee) Hoffman captures all the energy that Bernstein brought to the professional relationship with Woodward. He’s fidgety and cannot conceal his eagerness to impress everyone. However, between him and Redford, Hoffman comes up second in the acting ability category. Hoffman was, of course, “Tootsie” in a nominated effort and I liked him in “Marathon Man” (another adapted to the screen by Goldman) and “Wag the Dog” (another nomination – click here for my review), but gave a less-better one in “Runaway Jury” (click here for my review). Hoffman won for “Rain Man” and the awful regrettable crapfest called “Kramer vs. Kramer” and his other nominations are for Bob Fosse’s “Lenny,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “The Graduate.”
  • Robards, who made it back-to-back Oscars the next year in “Julia,” gives the performance of his career (although he was pretty neat in “Max Dugan Returns” – click here for my review) and for those of us who never knew Bradlee, he brings him to the screen and allows us to get to know a very unique individual. Robards just screams for more screen time, but he is so effective that it must have been just the right amount. Robards was also excellent in Ron Howard’s “Parenthood” (click here for my review). He died in 2000 at the age of 78 of lung cancer.
  • After Robards, the supporting actor I liked best was two-time Oscar nominee Warden. He does a magnificent job as Harry M. Rosenfeld, who was the Post’s editor of local news. Warden is at his outspoken best here defending the reporters and managing to keep them on the story even though they didn’t have national reporting experience at the time. Warden has the physical presence and attitude of a major newspaper editor. He wasn’t as good, but more endearing, in “While You Were Sleeping” (click here for my review) and was just cashing a check in the dreck that’s titled “Dirty Work” (click here for my review). Warden died at the age of 85 in 2006 of heart and kidney failure. His real name was John H. Lebzelter.
  • Oscar nominee (not for this one) Holbrook plays the iconic character “Deep Throat,” the reporters’ anonymous source named for an X-rated film at the time (the source would go on “deep background” with Woodward – read to the end of this review to learn his real identity). He’s smooth, just slightly condescending and is quite confident in himself. It is the perfect role for Holbrook with his expressive face in shadow and his voice. He was in “Lincoln” and “Wall Street” as well as TV’s “Evening Shade.” His nomination was for “Into the Wild.” He was also solid in playing a good guy-turned-bad guy who gets his comeuppance from Clint Eastwood in the “Dirty Harry” sequel “Magnum Force” (click here for my review).
  • Four-time Oscar nominee Alexander plays Judy Hoback, a bookkeeper who helps the reporters. She does a wonderfully subdued but every effective job here and it shows – she was nominated for her Oscar for it. She has been in “The Cider House Rules” and the cop film “The New Centurions” taken from the Joseph Wambaugh novel of the same name. She was also nominated for “Testament,” “The Great White Hope” and for that previously mentioned crapfest “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Other supporting actors with superior performances are too numerous to critique here. They include Oscar nominee (not for this one) Ned Beatty, three-time Emmy nominee Meredith Baxter (Baxter Birney then) and Emmy nominee Stephen Collins. Oscar winner (not for this one) F. Murray Abraham has a small role as a police officer. Oscar winner (not for this one) Martin Balsam as Managing Editor Howard Simons is good but is close but not enough so to warrant special mention.

One of the smallest speaking parts is by John McMartin, who plays the newspaper’s foreign editor. His brief conversation with Robards and Simons is solid and I would have liked to have seen more of him. McMartin was in “Brubaker” with Redford.

A couple of personal notes:

  • I have always been impressed with the realism of the news conference meeting (typically called a “budget meeting”) near the beginning of the film. I was in the newspaper business for 30 years and began it only four years after “All the President’s Men.” The “budget” meeting, in which the next day’s edition is planned, is great because of the wonderful interplay of the actors. Well, done. So, “All the President’s Men” is superior as a newspaper film to abominations such as “Absence of Malice” (which rises above its silly news stereotypes only because of Paul Newman’s acting).
  • Although he is not pictured in the film, Nixon staff member Charles Colson was a key player in the Watergate scandal and became the first Nixon aide to serve prison time during it. He lived in my community in the 1980s and I found myself in line behind him at a music-video store (remember when you had to pay a $50 fee to join the video rental club?). Colson asked the clerk to recommend a movie and I ALMOST piped with, “All the President’s Men.” Almost. I didn’t intrude – although I know it would have been funny and believe he most likely would have at least chuckled. As a final note, after serving time, Colson founded a ministry for inmates after a conversion to Christianity. Click here for his very eclectic career biography.

All the President’s Men” was the fourth best film at the domestic box office in 1976 with $70.6 million in ticket sales, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was “Rocky” with $117.2 million. Other films from that year that I have reviewed are:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • During the filming of this movie, Redford stayed at the Watergate Hotel.
  • Robards’ win was the only acting Oscar win. Goldman got it for the adapted screenplay and the others were for art direction and sound. Three of the four nominations were for the big categories – best film, best director and best supporting actress. One surprise is that neither Redford or Hoffman earned a nomination. Actually, that’s not a surprise. It’s shock.
  • Robert Walden, who plays Donald Segretti, would go on the next year after “All the President’s Men” to play a reporter in TV’s “Lou Grant” with Edward Asner.
  • At the time of its release, “All the President’s Men” was rated R because of language. It was subsequently rated PG.
  • Redford reportedly wanted Al Pacino to play Bernstein.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the break-in at the Watergate complex, plays himself.”
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “On Tuesday, May 31, 2005, in advance of a revelatory July 2005 “Vanity Fair” article written by his attorney and spokesman, 91-year-old W. Mark Felt acknowledged publicly for the first time that he was in fact the informant “Deep Throat,” a fact corroborated by Bob Woodward and the Washington Post. At the time of the Watergate break-in, Mr. Felt was the Deputy Director, the second-in-command, of the FBI.”
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Hal Holbrook was the first and only choice to play the informant Deep Throat. During the casting process, Bob Woodward, while looking at various actors photo head shots and resumes, but not revealing Deep Throat’s true identity, told and insisted to director Alan J. Pakula that Holbrook was the best choice to play Deep Throat. (Holbrook, in fact, bears a strong resemblance to Mark Felt).”
  • Click here for IMDb.com’s extensive trivia page about the film …

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015, 2017.
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