Who needs approval ratings? Hollywood’s view of the presidency constitutes a political barometer second to none. Over the years both fictional and nonfictional chief executives have paraded across the screen, reflecting prevailing moods and tapping into the hopes and fears of America’s-and the film industry’s-body politic: The ’30s Movie: Gabriel Over the White House (1933) President: Judson Hammond (Walter Huston). Personality: Corrupt fool, then unstoppable uber-Prez. Analog: Depression goat Herbert Hoover, then can-do FDR.
The ’40s Movie: Wilson (1944) President: Woodrow Wilson (Alexander Knox). Personality: Saintly visionary who foresaw WWII. Analog: FDR, another idealistic world leader.
The ’50s Movie: None. Highest office in the land apparently too sacred for filmic depiction during the uptight Ike years.
The ’60s Movie: The Best Man (1964) Would-be Presidents: Candidates William Russell (Henry Fonda) and Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson). Personalities: Doomed intellectual (Fonda); Commie-hating populist (Robertson). Analogs: Egghead Adlai Stevenson, red-baiter Joe McCarthy.
The ’70s Movie: Hail (1972) President: Called, simply, the President (Dan Resin). Personality: Guttural, paranoid schemer. Analog: Tricky Dick Nixon.
The ’80s Movie: First Family (1980) President: Manfred Link (Bob Newhart). Personality: Out-to-lunch boob who can’t keep family under control. Analog: Presidential stunt double Gerald Ford.
The ’90s Movie: Dave (1993) Presidents: Bill Mitchell and Dave Kovic (both played by Kevin Kline). Personalities: Corrupt, short-tempered shark; good- hearted regular guy. Analog: George Bush, then Bill Clinton-but only if you voted for the latter. -TB