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All the President's Men: Two-Disc Special Edition (Blu-ray Review)

2 Dec, 2013 By: Mike Clark

$19.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’
Stars Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards.

Home entertainment double-dipping, which is when a somewhat improved new edition of a DVD or Blu-ray comes out not that long after the more stripped-down original version, is as much of an irritant as double-dipping is in every other walk of life. Here, though, is an exception: The brand new Blu-ray of a benchmark of newspaper-pic royalty includes the automatically essential All the President’s Men Revisited documentary, which aired earlier this year on the Discovery Channel. And if you watched the broadcast, you know that Discovery is still incapable of showing anything that doesn’t include about 6,500 commercial interruptions, which is something that can tarnish even the key selling point here — by which I don’t mean this year’s colorful serve-up of fresh Nixon tapes that you know going in are going to include the latest obligatory constipated rant against Jews.

Instead, Revisited’s standout “wow factor” is the reunion we get between Men leads Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman plus another one with Redford, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, plus former Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, the bullet-biter (those Nixon folks really played rough) Jason Robards won an Oscar for portraying.

I’ve always wondered what kind of rarefied ego shot it is to know that someone won an Oscar for playing you because this is one near-exclusive club (George Patton, for instance, was already long dead when George C. Scott got his career role).

The movie version of Woodward-Bernstein’s same-titled classic book, of course, ends with a lot of the Watergate saga to go. Which means that this documentary covers a lot of material that got reduced to a flurry of wrap-up headlines in a 138-minute feature that everyone involved turned into a masterpiece — and certainly one that ranks in the Big Three of films about the newspaper profession (Citizen Kane and Ace in the Hole being the other two). So there’s a lot in Revisited about the Watergate Hearings — without which I likely wouldn’t be able to own a copy of chairman Sen. Sam Ervin’s subsequent fame-spurred Columbia recording of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" — and the battle for those same White House tapes, whose existence Nixon deputy assistant (and apparently standup guy) Alexander Butterfield divulged during the same.

There are also some look-backs at the movie’s production itself, which took Washington, D.C., by storm when it was shooting all over town in the late spring of 1975. (I am somewhere to be seen, but ultimately unspottable, as an extra in the crowd scene built around a mass late-night exit from the Kennedy Center — though a femme friend’s screaming and nicely form-fitting red dress is briefly viewable just before a cut.) Redford, who also served as executive producer, recalls that he was immediately taken by the WASP-Jew, Republican-Leftie contrasts the Woodward-Bernstein relationship had to offer as screen material, above and beyond the story of bringing a corrupt presidential administration down, which, by itself, wasn’t a bad start. But Woodward (and well, yes, the reporters were kind of busy) wasn’t initially very excited about the prospect and took a while to come around.

Thanks substantially to Gordon Willis’s trademark dark-end photography and the sound recording team that took the year’s Oscar, the result did manage to make Washington a very scary place, which reflects what my own life felt like at the time when working on an AFI research project housed at the time in the Library of Congress — meaning that my colleagues and I worked on the Hill (geography), if not on the Hill (duties). This was a period when you could walk into a bar and spot James St. Clair — the Nixon lawyer who argued the president’s tape case in the Supreme Court (and long before that, a veteran of the Army-McCarthy hearings, though in that warfare, he was more on the side of the angels).

It was also a time — my own absorption stemmed from January 1973 through the August 1974 Nixon resignation — where everyone I knew spent a minimum of 90 minutes every day reading the Post Watergate coverage. The movie brings it all back with an immediacy that still touches anyone who was there — and Klute notwithstanding, it is still clearly the best movie Alan J. Pakula ever directed in one of the spottiest a careers a talented filmmaker ever had. The now ancient Men DVD original took some hits in its day for failing to capture the dark subtleties of Willis’s work, but I think the Blu-ray version is up there with Paramount’s home rendering of The Godfather in pulling off a tough visual task. The documentary extras from the previous Men Blu-ray are carried over as well.

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