Secret Honor

"Good"

Secret Honor Review


Described in its opening credits as a "political myth," 1984's Secret Honor brings a legendary bit of American theater to the screen: Philip Baker Hall's tour de force turn as President Richard Nixon, originally staged for the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre, here filmed by Robert Altman as part of a filmmaking class he was then teaching at the University of Michigan. Although Altman is known as a director likely to stray from a script, his film version is faithful to the Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone play, and Hall reportedly reprises closely the performance he developed with the play's director, Robert Harders. (Altman bills Harders as "associate director.") If the project sounds unlikely, a reminder may be needed that Altman developed a few more plays for the screen around that time, such as Streamers and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. And for those who have come to associate Altman with well-populated films, a surprise: Secret Honor boasts a cast of exactly one.

It's a great cast just the same. Today we see Philip Baker Hall everywhere - his filmography for the past two years includes eight titles - but in 1984 he was largely known for his TV work and, for a lucky few, Secret Honor. His performance, obviously, is central to the film's success, and it's a doozie. But a quick look at the material will help to show why.

Secret Honor chronicles one rocky, hypothetical evening in the life of the disgraced president, shortly after his resignation and subsequent presidential pardon. He's holed up in his office, dictating to a tape recorder his defense before an imaginary judge and a jury that seems to comprise the American people in their entirety. You could say that he's not doing so good; sometimes, for instance, he seems to be Nixon speaking and sometimes an attorney representing Nixon. And he's poured two drinks, loaded a nickel-plated .357 magnum, and suffered several false starts on the tape recorder before he ever says a word.

Nixon's theme here is that he's been wronged again and again, and by just about everyone he knows. Besides his mother and wife, his kindest words may be his description of Jack Ruby as a "patriotic nightclub owner." Kissinger, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Agnew, the founding fathers ("snotty, angry shits"), and even Gerald Ford bear a lot of his abuse. And as the president's drink tally mounts and his rant strays further and further afield, a darker intrigue than Watergate emerges: a conspiracy by a shadowy entity known as the Committee of 100, in which Nixon was implicit, whose aims amount to high treason. Playwrights Hall and Stone intend seriously the hypothesis their Nixon sets forth: the Watergate scandal was one invented by the president to distract attention from far greater crimes.

Philip Baker Hall commands attention through it all. While his physical resemblance to Nixon is iffy, he's got the man's mannerisms cold, and he maintains close control even as his character loses same. Near the film's end Baker's President Nixon complains to a portrait of Woodrow Wilson that the press has painted him as a crazy man, one who reeled drunk through the White House talking to portraits; Hall is a skilled enough actor to wring the lines for their humor and their pathos simultaneously. It's no mean feat. Parts of Secret Honor threaten to lose the audience, and references to past public figures make the threat greater today. My guess is that Hall's clenched-teeth presentation will be enough to keep restive eyes on the screen.

Secret Honor is newly available on DVD from the Criterion Collection, with commentaries from Altman and Freed, a new interview with Hall, and an original archival film featuring footage from throughout Nixon's career.

Aka Secret Honor: The Last Testament of Richard M. Nixon, Secret Honor: A Political Myth, Lords of Treason.



Secret Honor

Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 29th January 1986

Distributed by: Cinecom International Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Richard Nixon

Also starring: ,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.