The Reagans (2003) TV

 

 

 

Director:  Robert Allan Ackerman.

Starring:  Judy Davis (Nancy Reagan), James Brolin (Ronald Reagan), Zeljko Ivanek (Michael Deaver), Mary Beth Peil (Edith Davis), Bill Smitrovich (Alexander Haig), Shad Hart (Ron Reagan Jr.), Zoie Palmer (Patti Reagan).

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

1987.  Mrs. Reagan tells President Reagan that Senator John Tower of Texas wants to talk to him.  It is the time of the Iran-Contra Affair and there is talk of impeachment.  The President remarks that the senator should ask that sun-of-a-gun Oliver North about what happened in the mess concerning the arms for hostages deal with Iran for the release of hostages and monetary support for the Nicaraguan Contras fighting the leftist government in Nicaragua.  The feeling in the White House is that the President should get a lawyer.  Reagan does not like the idea saying that: "I'm not Nixon". 

Flashback to Reagan's youth.  He is a lifeguard in Illinois. 

1949.  Hollywood.  Reagan has a broken leg in a cast.  His director asks him to speak with actress Nancy Davis who name was found on a list of communist sympathizers.  Reagan is President of the Screen Actors' Guild and as such should be able to give her some good advice.  The director also asks Reagan to take Nancy out to eat somewhere to cheer her up.  Reagan agrees and talks with her.  Later we find out that Ms. Davis had planned the whole scenario in order to meet Mr. Reagan. 

Reagan and Davis go out for dinner and dancing (in spite of his broken leg).  He tells her that some other woman, also known as Nancy Davis, signed the petition for which the actress Nancy Davis was blamed.  Nancy is relieved.  Reagan tells her that he was an FDR Democrat but that now his party has gone a little too far toward socialism.  He also tells her that he did not see combat during World War II because he is as blind as a bat and has to wear contacts. 

Nancy meets Reagan's two children, Maureen and Michael.  Michael was adopted and Maureen was the daughter of Reagan and Jane Wyman, who won an Academy Award for the movie Johnny Belinda.  The children tell Nancy that as a lifeguard their father had saved 77 people from drowning. 

Reagan works with a chimpanzee in the movie Bedtime for Bonzo.  He gets closer and closer to Nancy, but Nancy wants him to be more open emotionally to her.  In order to help bring him out, she tells him that she is going to New York to work in the theatre.  This really upsets Reagan who does not want her to go. 

Nancy gets pregnant.  Reagan comes to her and starts telling her intimate things about his background, such as the fact that his father was a drunk and that his mother was the one who held the family together.  In return, Nancy tells him that her father left her family before she was born and her mother had to be on the road for six years to make some money.  Reagan tells Nancy that he loves her and she tells him that she is pregnant. 

1953.  General Electric Corporation is ready to sign Reagan as a spokesman for the company to go around the country giving speeches for them.  Reagan's agent talks with Reagan about getting him a waiver so that he can avoid the rule that an agent cannot also be a producer.  Reagan gets the waiver for him.  Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater has heard about Reagan and he has come to love the GE spokesperson and wants to meet him. 

Their daughter Patti is now a little girl.  Goldwater talks with Reagan and tells him that they are going to make him a Republican.  Nancy is very overworked at home, but refuses to bring in a nanny. 

Ben Weldon of the Republican Party introduces the Reagans to some extremely rich people, many of them from the oil industry.  They are thinking about running Reagan for governor of California and then for the presidency of the United States.  Reagan is not sure he wants to stop completely being an actor.  Nancy starts to become very good friends with Mrs. Bloomingdale. 

Reagan starts acting for the GE Theatre.  But his agent has to tell him that he is out of work.  The agent has run afoul of President John Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy because of the waiver that Reagan had gotten for him.  The GE company leaders are afraid that a possible scandal might cause them considerable embarrassment and so Reagan is out.

1963.  President Kennedy is assassinated.  Nancy is heavily into astrology and is deeply committed to astrologer Christina Taylor.  Reagan's son Mike comes home to see his father.  The obstinate and difficult Patti is shocked and upset because she did not even know that she had a half-brother.    

1964.  Reagan gives a speech for Barry Goldwater.  At the convention, a registrar gets him to register as a Republican.  Reagan gets a job as the host of the popular television program Death Valley Days.  President Johnson wins the 1964 presidential election.  The money backers for Reagan tell Mrs. Reagan that they will pay the Reagans so that Reagan can quit the television job and still have ability to keep the lifestyle to which he and his family have become accustomed.  Patti takes a lot of her mother's medications.

Maureen Reagan comes to visit her father.  She has recently left her abusive husband.  Patti is further upset when she meets her half-sister.  Nancy tells Maureen that she should stay away from her father's gubernatorial campaign so that his divorce from her mother won't be emphasized in the press.  In the campaign Reagan promises to clean up the political mess caused by student demonstrators on the campuses of California.  Reagan wins the election and in boarding school, Patti says: "God, we're all screwed".

1967.  War protests against the Vietnam War.  Trouble at the University of California, Berkeley.  Reagan further becomes a tough law and order man.  When Nancy moves into the Governor's Mansion she vows to renovate the mansion.  She approaches the Bloomingdales for the money.  When the press finds about the expensive renovations, they start calling her "Fancy Nancy".   Their son Ronnie Jr. is upset when demonstrators come to the mansion.  He asks his mother:  "Why are they mad at us?" 

1968.  Assassination deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.   Reagan campaigns fto be the presidential candidate for the Republican Party, but loses to Richard M. Nixon.  Mrs. Reagan is mad at her husband's advisers for pushing him to run for the post.  Reagan says that he does not want to run for the presidency in 1976.  He and his family return to their ranch.

1975.  Reagan has fun with his radio show dealing with politics.  The conservative Young Americans for Freedom want him to run against President Ford.  Reagan is not so sure.  Fords wins the nomination, but loses to Jimmy Carter. 

1979.  Problems with Iran.  Iran takes American hostages. 

1980.  Newcomer John Sears is appointed to work with Mike Deaver to manage the Reagan presidential campaign.  Reagan messes up with the press, implying that trees cause pollution.  Sears wants Deaver out.  He forces a confrontation with Deaver and Deaver resigns.  Then Sears tells Nancy to stay home rather than accompany her husband on his campaign. 

The emotionally upset Patti visits her mother.  She tells her mother that she screwed her (Patti) up, but adds: "Please mom will you help me?"  Her mother agrees to get her professional help. 

Sears goes too far in trying to get rid of another Reagan staffer, Ed Meese, and Reagan curses at him.  Sears leaves the campaign and Deaver returns.  Reagan wins the nomination and then goes on to win the election. 

1981.  On the day of Reagan's inauguration, Iran releases the hostages.  Reagan says that Iran hurt two presidents: Carter by holding the hostages until after his defeat and Reagan by upstaging him by releasing the hostages on his inauguration day. 

Bill Casey is appointed to head the CIA.  Mrs. Reagan warns her husband not to appoint Al Haig as Secretary of State because everyone says he is emotionally unstable.  She suggests George Schultz instead.  But Reagan wants to let the Reds known that the United States is under new management.  He mentions his idea for a new missile defense system that came to be called "Star Wars". 

Reagan gets shot by would-be assassin John Hinckley, who wanted to impress actress Jodie Foster.  They successfully remove the bullet near the president's heart, but this so scares Nancy that she becomes even more dependent on her trusted astrologer.

Haig is becoming a real pain to the other presidential advisers, Meese, Deaver and Baker.  They decide that they will keep Haig from Reagan because Haig brings out the worst in the president. 

Reagan tells his wife that God wants him to end the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  Later he tells his close advisers to give the Nicaraguan contras whatever they need. 

Haig becomes even more difficult thereby creating a show-down.  Nancy Reagan tells her husband that Haig has to go.  Ronald Reagan has never fired a person face to face, but his hand is forced.  He gives Haig a letter of resignation and asks him to sign it.  Haig does not want to go, but Reagan remains firm.  Schultz replaces Haig. 

1982.  At a Grid-Iron Dinner given by the press, they really criticize Nancy Reagan for being a spend-thrift Queen.  But Nancy knew this was coming and leaves the dinner to dress in costume.  She gets onto the stage and sings a loud criticism of herself.  Her bold stroke is wildly applauded.  Patti wants to marry a yoga instructor.  CIA agent William Buckley is taken hostage.  Reagan is almost desperate in his desire to save the man. 

Nancy's treasured hair-dresser dies of AIDS and she is deeply affected.  She actually attends an AIDS support group where they ask her for help in fighting the disease.  Nancy talks to her husband, but he will not agree to help prevent AIDS.  Mrs. Reagan starts her "Just say No!" campaign against drug use.  She later visits her very elderly mother and mentions that the president is not well.  She adds that there are vipers in his cabinet. 

The Bitburg Scandal erupts.  Reagan laid a wreath at a German war monument where twenty SS troopers were buried.  This really upset the Jewish world community and Reagan was widely criticized.  Reagan believed that God wanted him to go to Europe in order to bring peace to that continent.  Deaver blames himself for the scandal and resigns. 

1985.  Reagan has cancer surgery.  Mrs. Reagan tries to talk to her doctor about her husband's problem of forgetfulness, telling him that her husband is not well.  But the doctor just dismisses the idea as a result of his recent surgery.

National Security Adviser Bud McFarlane talks with the president about "opening up communications" with Iran.  Colonel Oliver North tells McFarlane  that they cannot sell weapons to Iran.  But the marine is calmed by the claim that they are just "opening up communications". 

Nancy Reagan tells her husband to stop his talk of the Soviet Union as the "evil empire".  She parrots her own husband when she tells him that "God wants you to make peace".

The United States bombs Libya for its acts of terrorism in Europe.  Around 150 innocent civilians were killed. 

1986.  Col. North had 40 missiles sent to Iran to free a hostage, but another hostage was taken.  He then sent 100 more missiles to Iran to free the hostage, but three more innocents were kidnapped.  Now North is sending a bunch of missile parts to Iran.  Chief of Staff Donald Reagan yells at North for his poor performance. 

As talk heats up about an arms-for-hostages deal with Iran, Reagan goes on television and tells the public that his administration is not trading arms for hostages.  But later, Ed Meese tells the president that he was wrong.  The Iranians paid $30 million dollars for $12 million dollars worth of missiles.  Now the Iranians want their $18 million dollars back.  But the $18 million dollars is missing.  $4 million dollars went to the Nicaraguan Contras fighting in Nicaragua, but the remaining $10 million dollars is still un-accounted for.

Deaver tells Nancy Reagan to get rid of Donald Reagan.  Nancy in turn tells her husband adding that "people are doing things behind your back".  As the Iran-Contra Scandal heats up even more, Senator Tower is put in charge of the investigation.  McFarlane tries to commit suicide by taking an overdose of medication and Casey dies of a brain tumor. 

Sen. Tower pays a visit to Reagan and tells him the negative findings of the investigation.  Reagan says that he is sorry, but adds that he doesn't remember any of this.  Tower replies that even if he does not remember, they have testimony that proves that at the time that the violations of law were committed, he knew everything. 

Reagan goes on television and tells the American people that he had not wanted to believe it but the "opening of communications" had deteriorated into an arms-for-hostages deal.  Reagan survives the scandal.

1989.  Reagan leaves office.  George Bush I was elected president.  

 

Good movie.   There was a lot of protest against the choice of James Brolin as the actor to play President Ronald Reagan, since Brolin is a political liberal.  I think they were needlessly worried because Brolin gave a real touch of vulnerability to Reagan: a man whose father was a drunk;  a man who had trouble expressing himself emotionally; a man who did not avoided having to fire employees face to face.  Apparently, he was a more decent person that I thought him to be with all his attack on the poorest segment of American society.  I think the relationship between Nancy and Ronnie was just way too close.  They were too dependent upon each other, making it harder for them to include their children in a loving relationship.  For all the criticism of Nancy for intervening in her husband's political life, according to the movie, she gave him a lot of good advice, both personally and politically.   She was able to smooth some of his extreme macho attitude toward the Soviet Union.  Too bad he did not listen to her and try to help slow the spread of AIDS in the United States and elsewhere.  We learned after his presidency tht he had Alzheimer's which causes memory loss. (The thing I really hated was there anointing Reagan as the single man who suddenly stopped the Cold War that had been going on since before the end of World War II.   Just because a long political-social-economic events comes to fruition during the presidency of any given US president does not mean that the president caused the events.  As I have argued elsewhere, human beings are far too arrogant in thinking that they are very influential over the larger social, political and economic forces that are the real causes of events that affect humans.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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