Movies

Shall we tell the president?

A look at films that dealt with the American Presidency

By now, all of you would have gotten used to the idea of who is going to be the next leader of the Free World. Let us cast our minds back to 2006 and Mike Judge’s excellent satire Idiocracy. In the film, an average Joe, an army private who is the very definition of a normal American, is chosen by the Pentagon for a hibernation programme along with a sex worker, Rita. They wake up 500 years later, only to find that American society is as thick as two short planks, and he is by far the cleverest person on the planet, with Rita not too far behind in the intelligence stakes. After a series of misadventures, Joe eventually becomes the President, and Rita the First Lady.

History is littered with examples of films dealing with the American Presidency. For unhinged American Presidents, we need look no further than Peter Sellers, in one of the multiple roles in the film, playing President Merkin Muffley in Stanley Kubrick’s immortal Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). This satire on the Cold War features the delightful quote: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

Beyond satires, I tend to gravitate towards the soppier or funnier films that look at American Presidents rather than the worthy, serious ones. Hence, Rob Reiner’s The American President (1995), blessed with a rich script by Aaron Sorkin, remains a favourite. Michael Douglas plays a widower President who woos comely environmentalist Annette Bening. In Ivan Reitman’s Dave (1993), Kevin Kline plays a drudge who is a dead ringer for the President, and is asked to step in as an impersonator when the real President is in a coma – predating Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, if that’s your poison. Much to everyone’s surprise, the drudge’s aptitude for the job makes the real President’s waning popularity shoot up.

Since we’ve just witnessed a long and fractious Presidential campaign, it would be churlish not to mention Mike Nichols’ Primary Colors (1998), based on Joe Klein’s book that looked at Bill Clinton’s fascinating election trail, featuring gleeful performances from John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Kathy Bates, amongst many others.

Going back further in time, Gergory La Cava’s Gabriel Over the White House (1933) follows Walter Huston as a nondescript president, who is revitalised after a near-fatal accident and begins an improved regime.

When the Congress, dissatisfied by the new regime, impeaches him, he declares martial law and becomes a dictator. Please note the year of release.

While on campaigns, an often-overlooked film about the process is Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Best Man (1964), adapted by Gore Vidal from his play of the same name, and featuring a glittering cast, including Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson and Lee Tracy. The poster artwork for the film asks the question – Does the best man always get to the White House?

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 1:46:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/Shall-we-tell-the-president/article16373877.ece

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