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AT THE MOVIES: All the President’s Men Redux:

With the jaw-dropping news yesterday that W. Mark Felt has revealed that he is the notorious “Deep Throat,” it seemed a good time to take yet another look at the 1976 masterpiece, All the President’s Men, a film that seems to get better and better with each passing decade. 

Over the years, various people have been “identified”  as the real “Deep Throat,” but none of them resembled, in the slightest,  Hal Holbrook, who played “Deep Throat” in the film. Holbrook has a deep voice and a machismo to match the darkly sexy role he played in the Watergate scandal.   Holbrook may have been the only actor working at the time who could have made Robert Redford seem almost meek by comparison. 

Made a few years after Nixon’s resignation, All the President’s Men was conjured by a true dream team:  director Alan Pakula, writer William Goldman and leading actors Robert Redford (as Bob Woodward) and Dustin Hoffman (as Carl Bernstein), who came to be known as   “Woodstein,” with brilliant supporting turns by Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Martin Balsam and Jack Warden.

It was the kind of ‘70s film that laid out the big stars of the day like a shimmering deck of cards, unlike today when a film can afford one, maybe two, very big stars.  You’d have to scrape the bottom of the indie barrel to assemble  such a cast today to act in a film that is 95% conversation, 5% action.  It just doesn’t happen anymore.

The film begins with the Watergate break-in – with Woodward on the trail from the beginning. As one name leads to another more powerful name and on up the presidential food chain, Woodward hooks up with Bernstein and the two of them stay on the trail, never once daring to make the accusation that Nixon was involved.  And in fact, once their story stalls, they are entirely dependant on Deep Throat to give them the information they need to finish it.

Woodstein are as tenacious as they are annoying. They never sleep, they rarely bathe and they bother everyone they come in contact with.  But nothing is more important to them than the story.  It remains fascinating, to this day, to watch their every move, be it dull or brazen, funny or tragic. It’s all the more impressive because, going in, we know how the story ends, but it keeps us on the edge of our seats, waiting to see what will happen next.

Even more remarkable is that we are never shown any scenes from inside the White House (check out Oliver Stone’s Nixon for a parallel view) nor are we given much insight into Woodstein’s own private lives.  The film is so successful because it never, not for a second, drops the ball; it is flawless.  

If you are one of those people who has seen All the President’s Men dozens of times you already know that it is notable for being so very quiet.  Quiet and understated, in keeping with how two scrappy reporters from the Washington Post took down a presidency.  There aren’t any celebratory scenes in which the reporters are heralded as heroes – it remains somber to the very last second, when Nixon’s resignation is simply announced in a few words typed out on a news ticker.  

Goldman’s screenplay, from the interesting, but mostly tedious book by Woodward and Bernstein, is easily one of his very best, winning him an Oscar, one of the film’s four wins, out of the film’s eight total nominations.  It was up against two other great films, Network and Taxi Driver.  It was also up against Rocky, which won.  That Rocky beat All the President’s Men is typical of the way the Academy choose their winning best pictures – schmaltz over quality every time. 

As the story about W. Mark Felt floods the mainstream media, and Watergate is revisited, many people will reach for All the President’s Men.  Renting it on DVD is going to be a far more rewarding experience than paying to see any of the films playing at the theater this weekend.  They don’t make them this good anymore. 

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