Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nixon, The Silver Screen and October 1973

The movies viewed by Nixon, Carter and Reagan during their presidencies have been made available online.

Of these, I find Nixon to be endlessly fascinating. I attempted to make sense of the films he watched and how they correlated to historical events. I was hoping he viewed The Andromeda Strain (or at least The Satan Bug) during the week he signed a treaty outlawing germ warfare. Instead, the association of film to historical event was more cryptic, although on occasion it did achieve an odd form of correspondence and at other times, contrast. Some examples:

January 22, 1969.
Two days after his inauguration, Nixon screened The Shoes of the Fisherman, a 1968 film in which a former political prisoner played by Anthony Quinn becomes pope at a time when a crisis in China brings the world to the brink of war.

June 28, 1969.
On the day the Stonewall riots sparked the modern gay rights movement, Nixon was watching True Grit with John Wayne.

May 2, 1970.
Two days before the Kent State shootings Nixon watched The Blue Max, a pot-boiler in which a World War I German pilot strove to shoot down enough enemy planes to become a decorated hero.

September 9 to September 13, 1971. During the Attica Prison riots, Nixon returns to John Wayne, watching Big Jake. Wayne rescues his kidnapped grandson from a band of cut-throats.

June 17, 1972.
When five White House operatives were arrested for burglary at the Watergate Hotel, Nixon was watching The Notorious Landlady a comedy/mystery with Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon. Lemmon falls for a woman accused of murder. Written by Larry Gelbart of M*A*S*H fame and Blake Edwards.

January 27, 1973. 
The United States ends its war with Vietnam by signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Nixon "celebrated?" by watching the sex-romp Tom Jones which he followed up the next day with the film noir, This Gun for Hire.

October 1973.

This brings me to one of the most troubled months in recent history: October 1973. In this month, among other events, Israel and its Arab neighbors went to war, the first oil embargo rattled the economy, and the Watergate Scandal kicked out the Vice President and two attorney generals.

Nixon's choice of films during this time period either reflected world events or provided an ominous counterpoint. Genre: Crime/Mystery, 4; Historical/ Historical Adventure, 5; Apocalyptic Tales, 2.

To usher in the month, on the night of Sunday, September 30th, Nixon watched Lonely Are the Brave. Kirk Douglas played a cowboy who got himself locked up to help a friend escape from prison. The film was penned by Dalton Trumbo who was perhaps the most famous and talented of the Hollywood 10, a group of screenwriters whose careers Nixon played a role in destroying.

On September 30th, Pinochet's government in Chile began its Caravan of Death, a death squad which flew in by helicopter and killed scores of political opponents.

October 3rd, the press reported that Nixon paid just $793 in income taxes in 1970 and $878 in 1971 and received tax refunds totaling over $131,000.

October 4th, Nixon watched the mystery/thriller Play Misty for Me. Clint Eastwood in his directorial debut starred as a DJ stalked by an obsessive fan.

October 6th, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia launched a war against Israel. That same day Nixon watched the historical epic, Khartoum. Charlton Heston played 19th century British General Gordon in his doomed last stand defending the besieged city of Khartoum. Laurence Olivier played Muhammad Ahmed.

October 10th, Spiro T. Agnew resigned as Vice President.
On October 11th, as the Arab/Israeli war threatened to ignite World War III, Secretary of State Kissinger warned the Soviet Ambassador that if the Soviet Union sent troops to the Middle East so would the United States.
October 12th, a month after Pinochet seized control of Chile, Juan Peron returned to power in Argentina.

On October 13th, Nixon watched Zulu, another historical epic set in 19th century Africa. In this case 150 British and colonial troops fought back a massive native attack. Michael Caine starred.

October 14th, US begins resupply missions to aid embargoed Israel.
October 15th. Israeli tanks under General Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal.

On October 16th, Nixon watched his third consecutive film about the British in 19th century Africa. Suez, starring Tyrone Power, was a mythic recounting of how the British came to build the Suez canal.

October 16th to 17th. Arab nations meet and announce an oil embargo against countries supporting Israel. Although lasting five months, this economic earthquake will shape the world for decades to come.
October 17th. Secretary of State Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
October 19th. President Richard Nixon rejected an Appeals Court demand to turn over the Watergate tapes.

On October 19th Nixon watches The Sting with Redford and Newman as two hustling con-men.

October 20th. The Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon demands that his Attorney General Elliot Richardson fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refuses and is fired. Ruckleshaus, second in command, refuses and is fired. Bork, third in line, takes over and fires Cox.

On October 20th, in one of his most ironic choices, Nixon watches The Searching Wind. This was made from a Lillian Hellman morality play (and screenplay) about how a 1930s diplomat refused to denounce fascism. Robert Young. Hellman also suffered from being  blacklisted.

October 23rd. In spite of the firing and dismissals, President Nixon agrees to turn White House tape recordings.

On October 23rd, Nixon watches The World in His Arms. Gregory Peck plays as a ship captain in the 1850s, battling Russians in a quest for his true love.

October 26th. Yom Kippur war ends.

On October 27th Nixon watches Fail-Safe, Dr. Strangelove played as a drama. Henry Fonda as president decides to drop a nuclear bomb on New York.

On October 29th With his own last ten days being tumultuous, Nixon watches Hitler: The Last Ten Days, starring Alec Guinness.

On October 31st, to finish off the month, Nixon watches Live and Let Die. James Bond tackles a heroin dealer in New Orleans.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. His latest mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, recently won second place in the Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at


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