In this household, we happened upon All the President's Men as the opening credits began to roll, quickly settling in to watch it as we realized we probably hadn't seen it since 1976, when it was new, and when the events of the Watergate break-in and Nixon's subsequent resignation were still more news than history. He'd actually made the resignation official two days before my 18th birthday, ten days before I started college. Heady days!
So I remembered some pieces of the movie -- the tagline "Follow the money," which I still say rather frequently; Jane Alexander's brief but memorable performance as a reluctant source for Woodward and Bernstein; Jason Robards (in an Oscar-winning performance) as Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee; Hal Holbrook hiding in the shadows as Deep Throat, Woodward's secret informant; and, of course, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the investigative journalists who put together the pieces of one of the biggest political detective stories of the 20th century.
Alan J. Pakula directed a script written by legendary screenwriter William Goldman, based on the book of the same name by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. It's a tight, taut script, and Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis, another film legend, used bright lights and murky shadows, highs and lows, big, looming Washington DC landmarks and tiny details like the words tapped out on a typewriter, intercut beautifully to ramp up the suspense, showcase the powerful forces allied against our heroes, plot out the mystery perfectly, and keep the viewer as off-balance and uneasy as the reporters themselves.
I was really impressed. Newsrooms may look nothing like the pop-art Washington Post interiors (supposedly meticulously copied from the real 1976 Washington Post), reporters may be dependent on Google instead of the Library of Congress, and our best news source may be The Daily Show while newspapers go the way of the dinosaur, but All the President's Men still makes a ripping good yarn. If nothing else, it reminds us of the days when reporters took the investigative part of their jobs seriously, when people still thought a free press was integral to the idea of a democratic society, and the idea of truth in journalism meant something. Maybe I think I need to watch Citizen Kane again to remind me that yellow journalism didn't start with Roger Ailes and Fox News. Who you may recall worked for Richard Nixon...
Trivia note: In the early 70s, when these events took place, my parents both worked for the DuPage County (IL) Health Department. Oddly enough, both sides of the Watergate conflict were represented in DuPage County at that time, since Bob Woodward's dad was the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court there (moving up to the Appellate Court in 1977), while the mother of Nixon's press secretary, Ron Ziegler, worked at the Health Department with my mother. DuPage County was a Republican stronghold, so when Redford as Woodward tells one of the people they're interviewing that he is a Republican, I'm pretty sure he's telling the truth, not just making stuff up to get what he wants out of the source.