Programmed by Zachary Vanes
How much can we know about a historical figure by looking at the media that they consume? While onscreen, Richard M. Nixon was the embodiment of the awkward and uncinematic in the late 20th century, in private he was a committed moviegoer who screened over 500 films during his time in the White House. In fact, compelled by stress and habit he averaged more than two films per week during his last month in office. Mark Feeney writes, "Sitting in the dark and staring straight ahead was a perfectly natural thing to do, for he was a man who loved screens: those that conceal as well as those that show."" What did these films provide for Nixon? What can they provide for us today? Is it the same thing?
TRICKY DICK FLICKS presents the (now second) most disliked man in American politics through the movies he saw when it all came crashing down. Drawing from historical records kept by White House projectionist Paul Fisher published in Mark Feeney's Nixon at the Movies (University of Chicago Press), this program features the ten final films that Nixon saw before his inglorious departure from office--in the order that he saw them. Gritty noir classics from German émigrés, Post-Dirty Harry John Wayne action vehicles, romantic comedies, widescreen Westerns, and old time fantasies appear together in a survey of Golden Age and counter-Hollywood Renaissance filmmaking that's so good it's almost criminal.
(Fritz Lang, 1953) · The pinnacle of Fritz Lang's run of unforgiving 1950s noirs, The Big Heat follows police detective Frank Bannion (Glenn Ford) as he pursues justice at all costs against the mild-mannered yet all-powerful mob boss Lagana (Alexander Scourby). Gloria Grahame steals the spotlight (and the plot too) as the tough-talking moll caught in the crossfire. As Roger Ebert says, "the beauty of Lang's moral ambidexterity" is that the film asks who ultimately pays for Bannion's moral stand.
runtime: 89m format: 35mm
(John Sturges, 1974) · Somewhere on the spectrum of 1970s detectives, between "Popeye" Doyle and 'Dirty" Harry Callahan, there's Lon "McQ" McHugh (John Wayne), a tough Seattle cop looking for the man who killed his partner. Director of classics like Magnificent Seven (1960), John Sturges delivers a late-career thriller filled with crooked cops, cocaine deals, and plenty of one-liners from Nixon's favorite actor. As Garry Wills wrote, "Nixon had policies, but beneath those policies were the values Wayne exemplified."
runtime: 111m format: Digital
(David Butler, 1953) · The most bankable female star of 1950s Hollywood (and perhaps the most unfairly maligned), Doris Day reprises her role as Marjorie Winfield in the sequel to the musical comedy On Moonlight Bay. In By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Majorie rekindles her love for Bill (Gordon MacRae) after he returns from World War I. Both films draw from the Penrod stories by Booth Tarkington, who was also author of the source material for Orson Welles' Magnificent Ambersons.
runtime: 101m format: Digital
(Henry King, 1940) · An early technicolor film about a young man's rise through the ranks of a 19th century circus in upstate New York, Chad Hanna features Henry Fonda fresh off his career-defining roles in Young Lincoln and Drums on the Mohawk. Mark Feeney refers to Fonda as the cinematic "anti-Nixon" who's "happiest, or at least most gratified, when his cause is lost." The fantastic cinematography and art direction make Chad's circus look like a cause worth fighting for!
runtime: 88m format: 35mm
(Frank Perry, 1974) · After a young woman is found dead in an Indiana town, Detective Lee Tucker (Cliff Robertson) struggles to find the killer until psychic Franklin Wills (Joel Grey) steps forward to assist with the investigation. Grey, who won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role in Cabaret, turns in a wonderfully unsettling performance as the small-town psychic, and maverick director Frank Perry presents the story in an idiosyncratic style that anticipates David Lynch's Twin Peaks.
runtime: 110m format: Digital
(King Vidor, 1955) · King Vidor's final Western tells the story of Dempsey Rae (Kirk Douglas), a cowboy with a strong hatred for barbed wire who goes to work for Reed Bowman (Jeanne Crain), an ambitious rancheress fatale. Featuring a script by Borden Chase, screenwriter of Red River (1948) and The Far Country (1953), the film serves as the final showcase for the Freudian camp that defines the best of Vidor's postwar output. Don't miss double crosses, seductions, and range war rendered in vivid Technicolor!
runtime: 89m format: Digital
(Billy Wilder, 1940) · Billy Wilder's first directorial success tells the story of Phyllis Dietrichsen (Barbara Stanwyck), who enlists insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in a scam that involves the murder of her husband. Wilder co-wrote the film adaptation of James M. Cain's novella with celebrated author Raymond Chandler. Preceded by discussion between critic Mark Feeney and Prof. Allyson Nadia Field, supported by the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture and University of Chicago
runtime: 107m format: 35mm
(Robert Wise, 1962) · A recently divorced lawyer from the Midwest (Robert Mitchum) falls in love with a struggling New York dancer (Shirley MacLaine) in an intimate romantic comedy adapted from the first hit Broadway play by William Gibson (The Miracle Worker). Fresh off of his success with West Side Story, director Robert Wise produced the final look of the film by using diptych shots for key moments in the story and shooting elegantly composed black and white images on location in New York.
runtime: 119m format: Digital
(Frank Capra, 1946) · Before the 1974 copyright lapse (the same year as Nixon's resignation) that let TV stations show It's A Wonderful Life royalty free over the holidays, Frank Capra's notably dark postwar film was a forgotten Hollywood gem with standout performances from James Stewart and Donna Reed. With its bizarro frame narrative, ambivalent portrayal of small-town America, and finale teeming with character actors, the immortal story of Bedford Falls borrows more magic from Preston Sturges than Old Saint Nick.
runtime: 130m format: 35mm
(Michael Anderson, 1956) · In this adaptation of Jules Verne's 1873 novel, Phileas Fogg (David Niven) bets that he can circumnavigate the globe in eighty days. Winner of six academy awards including Best Picture, Nixon's all-time favorite film features cameos from nearly everyone in 50s Hollywood. H.R. Haldeman described watching it with Nixon in 1971: "He was hysterical through it, as each scene was coming up, he'd say 'you re going to love this particular part' or 'the scenery is just great, now watch this closely.'"
runtime: 175m format: Digital