Oscar Winning Films of Washington, D.C.: All the President's Men

Movie poster for All The President's Men
Movie poster for All The President's Men.

The film version of the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein book All the President’s Men had blockbuster written all over it when it was released on April 9, 1976. The book was already an international bestseller and had won its authors the Pulitzer Prize. And the filmmakers assembled to bring the book to the screen read like a who’s who of top Hollywood talent. [1]

Robert Redford, already one of the most bankable movie stars in the world at the time, bought the film rights to All the President’s Men shortly after it was published. Taking on the role of producer, Redford hired popular screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) to write the script. Alan J. Pakula (Klute and The Parallax View) was hired to direct and the cinematographer was Gordon Willis (The Godfather and The Godfather Part II). Among the cast were many popular performers of the time such as Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Hal Halbrook, and Ned Beatty.

All the President’s Men was a quintessential Washington story, explaining in rich detail the investigative work undertaken by Woodward, Bernstein, and the Washington Post in investigating the Watergate burglary and the ensuing cover-up by the Nixon White House.[2]

From the beginning, the filmmakers decided they wanted to use as many authentic locations as possible, including the Watergate Hotel, the Library of Congress, Lafayette Park, and the Kennedy Center.[3]

Behind the scenes during the filming of All The President's Men (Source: IMDB)
Behind the scenes during the filming of All The President's Men (Source: IMDB)

The one interior location that Redford, Pakula, and company could not get access to was the Washington Post offices. The Post publisher and the paper’s editors were concerned about being disrupted by a big Hollywood film crew on site. The extraordinary popularity of the book and the star appeal that was being showered upon Woodward and Bernstein already gave the newspaper a glitzy appeal that its older editors and reporters resented.

Tom Shales, Tom Zito, and Jeannette Smyth, explained this view in April 1975, shortly before production began on the film.

“Professional newspaper people prefer to see themselves as detached, dispassionate observers — rumpled scribblers lurking carefully in the background,” they wrote in the Washington Post. “Now they find themselves bedfellows (not literally, of course) with ‘The Stars,’ emissaries from Hollywood, where self-publicity is a necessary art and the synthetic ray of the spotlight a principal source of energy.”[4]

The producers were locked out of the one location they desired most, but they remained undeterred. Set designers meticulously measured, photographed, and mapped the Post newsroom in exact detail and recreated it at Burbank Studios in Hollywood at the cost of $200,000.

Despite this, the Post ultimately chose to cooperate with the production, acting in an advisory capacity to ensure authenticity to the extent possible with a big Hollywood production.

"We're all in the position that we didn't have any choice about this movie,” longtime Post executive editor Ben Bradlee said at the time. “[I]t would be made regardless — and I could see that. Lacking that choice, it seemed to make more sense to try to influence it factually than to just stick our heads in the sand."[5]

Real life Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (AP Photo)
Real life Bob Woodward (right) and Carl Bernsein (left). (AP Photo)

The final product was not only a great tour of our nation’s capital, but it was a compelling story that continues to entertain viewers. Upon its release, All the President’s Men was called a “riveting screen adaptation” by Vincent Canby of the New York Times.[6] It was widely considered one of the best movies of that year, and grossed $70 million at the box office, a huge take for that time.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It won Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor. It was named as part of the American Film Institute’s top 100 films in 2007.

Footnotes

  1. ^ IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, lists the full cast and crew of the film, along with links to their separate biographical pages: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074119/
  2. ^ For a brief, but authoritative look at the Watergate scandal, check out the Washington Post website chronology, “The Watergate Story” at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/watergate/
  3. ^ For a list of interior and exterior shots, see The Movie District blog: http://www.themoviedistrict.com/all-the-presidents-men/
  4. ^ Tom Shales, Tom Zito, and Jeannette Smyth, “When Worlds Collide: Lights! Camera! Egos!,” The Washington Post, April 11, 1975. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/features/dcmo...
  5. ^ Quoted in Shales, Zito, and Smyth, “When Worlds Collide: Lights! Camera! Egos!,” The Washington Post, April 11, 1975.
  6. ^ Vincent Canby, “’President’s Men’, Spellbinding Film,” New York Times, April 8, 1976. http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C0DEEDF143BE43ABC4053DFB266838D...