Nixon at the Movies
Kirshner, Jonathan, Film & History
Mark Feeney. Nixon at the Movies. University of Chicago Press, 2004. 436 pages; $27.50.
Alone in the Dark
Nixon at the Movies is an enormously promising title. As its author notes, no President, not even Hollywood's own Ronald Reagan, is so intimately associated with the grand sweep of American movies of the second half of the twentieth century. Nixon supported the business first as the local congressman from southern California and subsequently (and importantly) as President; Nixon who made his early reputation as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that tormented Hollywood during the red scare; Nixon the avid movie watcher who famously unspooled Patton for repeated viewings as he ordered the invasion of Cambodia; and perhaps most influentially, Nixon the paranoid plotter whose implicit presence dominated so many great films from the every seventies, followed by the routine projection of his impossibly Shakespearean character onto the big screen.
Unfortunately, for the readership of this journal, Nixon at the Movies does not live up to the promise of its title. While this fine book is a knowledgeable and distinct contribution to the enormous Nixon literature, it is essentially a new Nixon biography, albeit one written from the pen of an author capable of drawing on an impressive wellspring of movie lore (and popular culture). But The Movies are clearly limited to second (and, over the course of the volume, decreasing) billing, and, most problematically, are too often relegated to separate and at times perfunctory passages. There are not enough scenes in which Nixon and The Movies share the screen; even HUAC is reduced to a cameo appearance. A reader of the chapter on Nixon and Elvis would be forgiven for not realizing the book had an interest in film; the chapter about Kissinger looses sight of both Nixon and the Movies.
While occasionally repetitive and at times overconfident (had Nixon really "barely heard of Elvis" (p. …