All the President's Men (1976)


 


Director:  Alan J. Pakula.

Starring:  Robert Redford (Bob Woodward),  Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein),  Jack Warden (Harry M. Rosenfeld),  Martin Balsam (Howard Simons),  Jason Robards (Ben Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post),  Hal Holbrook (Deep Throat, who since 2005 we know was W. Mark Felt), Jane Alexander (Judy Hoback),  Meredith Baxter (Debbie Sloan),  Ned Beatty (Martin Dardis),  Stephen Collins (Hugh W. Sloan, Jr.),  Penny Fuller (Sally Akin),  Robert Walden (Donald H. Segretti),  Frank Wills (himself, Watergate security guard).  .

Based on the best-selling book All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

 

This is the story of the process of discovery of the political scandal known as Watergate by two Washington rather than its aftermath, covering the years from 1972-1974. It all begins rather simply with the report of a 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex.

Through a series of interviews of potential informants, we watch the reporters as they get closer and closer to the truth about and behind the break-in.  

The Watergate scandal ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

 

Spoiler Warning:  Below is the summary of the entire movie. 

 

Good movie.  President Richard Nixon was a very paranoid personality and he gathered around him some very suspect people who were willing to commit criminal acts to ensure that Nixon got re-elected.  They actually created a squad of lawyers and officials that, while they said it was just "dirty tricks," devoted itself to sabotaging the Democratic Party by criminal activity.  The Deep Throat character mentions some of these activities: bugged, followed people, false press leaks, fake letters, cancelled Democratic campaign rallies, investigated Democratic private lives, planted spies, and stole documents.  They even sabotaged the candidacy of a Democrat who had a better chance of beating Nixon in the 1972 election, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine.  With Muskie out of the race, Nixon had an easy time of defeating McGovern who was seen as too "radical" by much of the American electorate. 

June 1, 1972.  The movie begins with a news report on President Nixon's arrival at the Capitol building. 

At the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., a group of five men are in the process of burglarizing the the Democratic National Headquarters.   The burglary is discovered by an African-American security guard Frank Wills because of a suspicious piece of tape placed over one of the door latches in order to keep the door open.  He called the police and they arrested the burglars. 

At the offices of the Washington Post, the burglary raises a lot of eyebrows.  What's going on?  Who are these burglars?  Reporter Bob Woodward starts working on the story.  What really raises his curiosity is that the burglars have country-club type lawyers who responded even before any telephone call was made by any of the five burglars.  Four of the burglars are Cuban refugees, while James W. McCord is a security consultant with ties to the CIA.  In fact, all the men have had dealings with the CIA. 

Reporter Carl Bernstein also begins working on the story.  He says that somebody hired these men to do the burglary.  As the investigation goes forward, two more names come up: Howard Hunt of the CIA who has ties to the White House and Charles Colson, special counsel to the President.  In Hunt's address book there were the names of two of the burglars. 

Bernstein starts rewriting some of Woodward's articles.  (Woodward has only been with the Washington Post for some nine months.)  This makes Woodward mad, but he agrees that Bernstein did improve the articles.  Soon after, both men get the news that they will be working together on the Watergate story.  And soon they find themselves struggling for more information against the myriad doors being shut in their faces. 

This is when informant Deep Throat starts to help guide the reporters by giving them hints and suggestions to keep the progress going forward.  Deep Throat would meet Woodward in dimly lit parking garages.  A key piece of advice from Deep Throat was "follow the money."  In other words, trace the flow of the money used in the re-election campaign for President Nixon. 

A key name that comes up is that of G. Gordon Liddy who was fired by Attorney General John Mitchell for not talking to the F.B.I. 

Bernstein heads down to Miami, Florida to ask an investigator there to let him see some of the evidence they have collected against the four Cuban refugees, who were from that city.  But, even though Bernstein had an appointment, Martin Dardis won't see him.  Bernstein tricks his way in and with a little inducement gets Dardis to let him see some of the checks to one of the Cubans, Barker.  He sees a check for $25,000 made out to Barker and signed by Kenneth H. Dahlberg.  Bernstein calls Dahlberg and asks him why his name is on the check, but Dahlberg won't talk.  Dahlberg worked for CREEP (the Committee to Re-Elect the President), which raises more questions. 

Surprisingly, Dahlberg calls backs and tells Bernstein to contact Mr. Maurice Stans, head of finance for Nixon.  But Stans is no easy man to get to. 

Everyone is telling the two reporters to drop the story because it wasn't going any where.  Not discouraged, the reporters get one of their colleagues to use her contacts with her ex-boy friend to come up with the list of names for CREEP.  With this list, they start contacting every name they can.  But usually no one will talk with them. 

One of the key interviews turns out to be with Judy Hoback.  Although she is extremely reluctant to talk with the reporters (in fact, at first she lied to them), she tells them that a cash fund of at least $350,000 was available for various "incidentals".  A list of 15 names responsible for the disbursement of  the funds was destroyed.  But there was a group of five men who were mostly responsible for the disbursement of funds.  Attorney General Mitchell was in control of the funds. 

The reporters try to figure out who are these five men.  They come up with the names of Liddy, Porter, McGruder and Mitchell.  But who was the fifth man? 

To find out they track down Hugh W. Sloan, Jr. who was a key man with CREEP's finances.  Sloan stresses that every action of CREEP  had to be cleared by the White House.  He also tells the reporters that instead of a slush fund of some $350,000, it is closer to $1,000,000.  And now the name of Bob Haldeman starts to come to the fore.  (It was said that Haldeman was the second most powerful man in the western world, as he was the number two man next to the President of the United States.) 

The two reporters publish a story claiming that the former attorney general John Mitchell is a crook, that he controlled a secret cash fund to finance the efforts to sabotage the Democrats. 

The next man the reporters go after is lawyer Donald H. Segretti who headed the Republican sabotage campaign.  From him they learn that the scandal that led to the destruction of the Edmund Muskie campaign came from Segretti's team.  Later they learn that it was Ken Clausen, Deputy Director of White House Communications, who wrote the letter that started the scandal. 

The new and improved list of the 5 conspirators responsible for CREEP funds disbursements were: Mitchell, Stans, MacGruder, Kalmbach and Haldeman.  But they had to get lots of independent sources to confirm Haldeman's involvement because the White House loosed a barrage of criticisms of the Washington Post

Woodward seeks confirmation from Deep Throat, who tells them that they released Haldeman's name too early and that it has set the investigation back by at least two months.  Woodward agrees.  Deep Throat tells him that the whole thing was a Haldeman operation and that everyone is involved!  He adds that "your lives are in danger."

Nixon is sworn in as President of the United States. 

January 11, 1973  --  Hunt pleads guilty to three counts of conspiracy and burglary.

April 16, 1973  --  Chapin guilty of lying to the grand jury.  

August 17, 1973  --  MacGruder pleads guilty to helping plan the Watergate affair.

November 5, 1973  --  Segretti sentenced to six months in prison. 

February 26, 1974.  Kalmbach pleads guilty to illegal White House fund raising.

April 12, 1974  --  Porter gets 30 days in jail for lying to the FBI. 

May 17, 1974  --  former Attorney General Kleindienst enters a guilty plea. 

June 4, 1974  --  Chuck Colson pleads guilty to felony obstruction of justice.

August 4, 1974.  Nixon resigns. 

Vice-President Gerald Ford takes over as President.     

August 6, 1974  --  tapes show that Nixon approved a cover-up of the Watergate affair. 

January 2, 1975  --  Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman guilty on all counts. 

March 13, 1975  --  Stans admits guilt to charges involving illegal fund raising. 

2005  --  the identity of Deep Throat is revealed by the man himself, W. Mark Felt, a former Associate Director of the US FBI. 

 

When I was younger, I was confused by the movie.  But this time, maybe because I took notes for the review, I understood all the twists and turns of the evidence building against the White House.  Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman did a great job as the two investigative reporters. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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