Friday, September 18, 2020

When The President Is Just “The President”

As Election Day is coming up soon, let’s take a look back at Presidents in the movies. Specifically how in many films fictional Commander in Chiefs aren’t given names, they’re simply “The President.” Sometimes it makes sense as the President is a minor character who doesn’t need to be identified further. Other times, the leader of the free world gets enough screen time that it seems that the writers should’ve named the character. So let’s take a look at some significant examples of both kinds in this handy listicle:

Henry Fonda 

This legendary actor is a good one to start with as apparently he was seen as Presidential early in his career with his role in John Ford’s YOUNG MR. LINCOLN in 1939. Fonda also portrayed a Presidential candidate in Franklin J. Schaffner’s THE BEST MAN (1964), but it was the two times he played “The President” in Sidney Lumet’s FAIL SAFE (also 1964), and Ronald Neame’s METEOR (1979) that put him on top here. It would be wrong to think he’s playing the same President in both films as one is a critically acclaimed cold war thriller, and other is poorly rated schlocky disaster flick, but it’s still tempting. Incidentally Richard Dreyfus played the role in the 2000 TV movie version of FAIL SAFE, and he didn’t have a name either.

Bruce Greenwood 

The distinguished Greenwood played President John F. Kennedy in Roger Donaldson’s 2000 historical thriller THIRTEEN DAYS, and it looks like that groomed him to portray “The President” in Jon Turteltaub’s NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (2007), and “President of the United States” (that’s how he’s credited) in KINGSMEN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017).

Stanley Anderson 

Both of Michael Bay’s bloated ‘90s action thrillers, THE ROCK (1996), and ARMAGEDDON (1998) featured character actor Stanley Anderson as “The President,” which makes an argument for both movies being set in the same world. Can’t say that really matters though, as I doubt I’ll revisit them anytime soon to see if there are other clues as to whether this is true.

E.G. Marshall 

This Presidential part in Richard Lester (and Richard Donner’s) SUPERMAN II (1981) is too substantial to not be named. Marshall, sporting a toupĂ©e so obvious that he was depicted with a price tag hanging from his hair in the Mad Magazine satire of the movie, has a considerable amount of screen-time, so what’s the deal with not giving him a name? In the fourth installment of the series, SUPERMAN IV (1987), Robert Beatty performed the duty of “The President” as well, so it seems that the makers of the Superman series just aren’t into naming Presidents.

Tim Robbins 

Robbins is included here because his brief scenes in Jay Roach’s AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (1999) makes a good case for why “The President” doesn’t always need a name. His character is Commander in Chief in the late ‘60s in the movie’s universe, and is there to negotiate with Michael Myer’s Dr. Evil over what amount of money would stop the villain from destroying all of America’s major cities. Dr. Evil asks for “one hundred billion dollars,” an amount that Robbins’ President tells him “doesn’t exist” in 1969. “That’s like saying ‘I want a kajillion bajillion dollars.” You see, people are going to be more likely to remember this wacky dialogue than they are whether the President has a name.

Ronny Cox 

Possibly best known for his roles in ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, and BEVERLY HILLS COP I & II, Cox has played the president four times, but in three of them – CAPTAIN AMERICA, MURDER AT 1600, and NADIA’S PROMISE – he had names. So maybe it’s fitting that in MARTIANS GO HOME, a crappy 1989 sci-fi comedy starring Randy Quaid, he was just “The President.” I mean, why in such a dumbass project as that would any effort be needed to give the guy a name?

Jonathan Pryce 

In G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (2009), and its sequel, G.I.JOE: RETALLIATION, Welsh born thespian Jonathan Pryce portrayed “The President,” I don’t have anything to say here as I haven’t seen these films, and didn’t know he was in them. Just seems like if they bring the character back for a second go around, a name would’ve been nice to add. Probably wouldn’t matter much to the movies though.

Gregory Peck 

It was surprising for me to learn that this ace actor only played “The President” (credited here as just “President”) once and it was in such a minor movie, Mike Newell’s AMAZING GRACE AND CHUCK (1987). Peck’s immense gravitas has graced many roles as authority and historical figures, and even narrated a 1964 documentary on JFK (JOHN F. KENNEDY: YEARS OF LIGHTNING, DAYS OF DRUMS) so it would seem he’d be visiting the Oval Office multiple times. Alas it was not to be.

Eddie Albert 

Another guy who could’ve taken on the part more than once, Albert had a memorable turn as “The President” in Joseph Ruben’s largely forgotten 1984 sci-fi horror flick DREAMSCAPE (wait, is it forgotten? I forgot it at least).

Billy Bob Thornton 

He may be the least Presidential actor here, but as “The President” in Richard Curtis’ 2003 rom Com LOVE ACTUALLY, Thornton cleans up real good. The Commander in Chief here is a creepy combination of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, something that the Arkansas born actor shows he can pull off effortlessly. Still, this is a character that just begs to have a name. I’m going to make one up – Maximillian Travis. How’s that?

Other actors who’ve been through a movie as a President with no name: Forrest J. Ackerman, Alan Alda, Michael Belson, James Caan, Roger Cross, Robert Culp, Jim Curley, William Devane, Sam Douglas, Tom Everett, Roy Gordon, Jimmy Hayward, Charles Macauley, Christopher McDonald, Zero Mostel, Michael Pate, Gordon Pinsent, William Prince, Chris Shields, John Wesley Shipp, Josef Sommer, Rod Steiger, Lewis Stone, Franchot Tone, Ivan Volkman, Sandy McCallum

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Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Legacy Of Mrs. James Bond 007


This morning, word got around online that the great actress Diana Rigg had passed away at age 82. Most obituraries highlighted that she was Emma Peel in The Avengers series in the ‘60s, and Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones, but for many fans her defining role was as the one woman in entire 25 film run of the James Band series who married the super spy.

After five films in which Sean Connery portrayed 007, the actor wanted out and opted not to reprise the role in the sixth entry in the franchise. The unknown model, George Lazenby, took over the iconic Bond part for ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, and was paired with leading lady Diana Rigg as Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (nickname: Tracy).

Despite Lazenby’s inexperience, he had good chemisty with Rigg, and it felt plausible that Bond had found his true love, after he had yet again saved the world – this time from a deadly worldwide virus (hmm) that his arch enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) was attempting to inflict.

Moments after 007 and Tracy have a lovely wedding ceremony in Portugal, Bond pulls over his car (an Aston Martin, of course) on the winding mountain road to remove flowers from the car’s hood. Suddenly a vehicle containing Blofeld and his henchmen rapidly appears, and perform a deadly drive-by. Rigg’s Tracy dies instantly from a headshot, while Bond cries and tells a passing motorcycle cop: “It
s all right. Its quite all right, really. Shes having a rest. Well be going on soon. Theres no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.” (This was also the title of the Louis Armstrong-sung romantic theme song for the film)

This shocking killing is undeniably the saddest moment in the entire James Bond canon. It devastated me when I first saw the movie as a kid on TV, and it’s still a powerful scene over 50 years later.

Although he was in one of the series’ best entries, Lazenby was a Bond one-timer, and Connery was tempted back into the fold with the next film, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. The 1971 film opened with Connery’s 007 scouring the world to find Blofeld in order to take revenge for the death of his wife.

Now, her name was never mentioned but audiences just knew that’s what the deal was. After Bond supposedly takes down his greatest adversary – “Welcome to Hell, Blofeld” – Tracy is again, not referenced in the rest of the movie, but that’s not surprising as DIAMONDS was intended to be an cheeky old school exercise in GOLDFINGER-style colorfulness (Shirley Bassey was even back to sing the theme!).

Roger Moore took over for 1973’s LIVE AND LET DIE, but neither it nor its follow-up, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN had any mention of Mrs. James Bond. Since Moore signified a re-booting of the series (of course, nobody said reboot back then – the concept didn’t exist), so maybe they had left behind the idea that Bond had a wife who died tragically.

But then there was 1977’s THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, arguably Moore’s finest film as 007. In one scene, Bond’s latest lady, Barbara Bach as Russian agent Major Anya Amasova statically states his resume to his dismay.

Major Anya Amasova: “Commander James Bond, recruited to the British Secret Service from the Royal Navy. Licensed to kill and has done so on numerous occasions. Many lady friends but married only once. Wife killed…”

James Bond: [interrupts her] “Alright, you've made your point.”

Major Anya Amasova: “You’re sensitive, Mr. Bond?”

James Bond: “About certain things, yes.”

There we get that Moore’s Bond is indeed the same Bond from ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, and that he’s still profoundly hurt by the experience of her murder.

Four years later, the point is driven home by the opening of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981). Moore’s 007 visits the grave of Teresa Bond, as she’s identified on her tombstone along with the inscription “1943-1969, Beloved Wife of James Bond,” and “We Have All the Time in the World.”

The next and last time there was a mention of Bond’s long slain wife was in LICENSE TO KILL (1989), which was Timothy Dalton’s second and final film as Bond.

When Bond’s best friend CIA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison, reprising the role from LIVE AND LET DIE) gets married, his new bride Della (Priscilla Barnes from Three’s Company!) offers to throw her garter at 007 saying, “You know the tradition? The next one who catches this is the next one who...”

But Bond deflects, “No. No. Thanks, Della. It's time I left.” After he exits, Della asks Felix, “Did I say something wrong?” Felix: “He was married once, but it was a long time ago.”

20 years to be exact. Technically this is the last reference in the franchise to Bond’s long lost flame, but in Pierce Brosnan’s 007 debut, GOLDENEYE (1995), there is a notable line from 006, Alex Trevelyan (Sean Bean), that seems to have some resonance about Bond’s past:

Alex Trevelyan: “I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis drown out the screams of the men you've killed, or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for the dead ones you failed to protect.”

Daniel Craig, whose fifth and final Bond adventure, NO TIME TO DIE, is slated for later this year, never had to deal with the issue of having his wife die, but did have in CASINO ROYALE, a true love in the form of Vesper Lynd (Eve Green) whose death affects him greatly.

That is indeed sad, but c’mon, her impact will never come anything close to that of Rigg’s Teresa/Tracy. The tributes I’ve seen today from folks about the how the character got to them at an early age can’t be denied.

Of course, we don’t have all the time in the world, but the short time we had with Mrs. James Bond will just have to do.

R.I.P. Diana Rigg

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Wednesday, September 09, 2020


Now playing at select theaters, virtual cinemas, and premiering on home video on October 2nd:

(Dir. Mary Wharton, 2020)

This documentary, which explores how Jimmy Carter’s love of music affected his life, campaign, and his term in office as the 39th President of the United States, is a sheer delight. It’s a jubilous experience to hear Carter discuss rock, soul, jazz, country, funk, blues, and classical music, and to see him jam to his favorites including The Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, Dizzy Gillespie, Shirley Caesar, and many others – a veritable who’s who of ‘70s popular music.

The film begins with a clip of Carter quoting Bob Dylan – “He not busy being born is busy dying” – as he often did on the campaign trail, and Dylan’s influence is a dominant theme throughout the doc with Carter saying that his music helped him get closer to his sons, and that he was one of his best friends. Dylan, who appears in newly shot interview segments, is highly complementary of Carter as well saying that “Theres many sides to him - hes a nuclear engineer, wood-working carpenter,  he's also a poet, hes a dirt farmer  if you told me he was a race car driver, I wouldn't be surprised.

But it was Carter’s friendship with The Allman Brothers, particularly Greg Allman and Chuck Leavell, that had the biggest impact on Carter’s political career as they performed at fundraisers that helped him greatly when his campaign had run out of money. Their endorsement of Carter meant that many of their fans were swayed to vote for him as well. Other artists such as The Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, and Jimmy Buffett followed suit.

“There’s some people who didn’t like my being deeply involved with Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan, and disreputable rock and rollers, but I didn’t care about that because I was doing what I really believed, and the response I think from the followers of those musicians was much more influential than a few people who thought that being associated with rock and roll and radical people was inappropriate for a President.” - Jimmy Carter

Then there’s the neat device of having musicians such as Nile Rodgers, Roseanne Cash, Bono, Willie Nelson read aloud Carter’s poems such as “Plains,” “I Wanted to Share My Father’s World,” and “Itinerant Songsters Visit Our Village.”

The film’s last half hour is concerned with the politics of Carter’s one term - i.e. the Chinese peace negotiations, the horrible Iranian hostage crisis, mounting inflation, etc. – but it still keeps coming back to the music as Carter retreats to a room alone in the White House, where Truman had his office, to listen to Willie Nelson, and think about his problems and make prayers.

While a great roster of interviewees including Carter’s son Chip, Greg Allman, Rolling Stone Co-founder Jann Wenner, Madeline Albright, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Larry Gatlin, add insights aplenty to the narrative, it’s Carter’s own recollections that are the meat of the matter.

Although it only clocks in at just a little over an hour and a half, the pleasures of this portrait of a peanut farmer that came to be the first President to embrace rock and roll are infinite. I could go on and on about them, but I’ll just leave you with this – if you like Jimmy Carter going in, you’re going to like him 10 times more at the end.

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