17 August 2013

Hail to the Chief

by John M. Floyd

Rob Lopresti's entertaining column a couple weeks ago about different actors who have played the same detective/sleuth started me thinking. (Always a dangerous thing.) What role, I found myself wondering, would be the most difficult for an actor to take on? A terrorist? A child molester? A serial killer? Possibly--but challenging roles don't always have to be bad guys, right? What if you had to play a familiar, famous, and/or heroic part? Wouldn't that be just as hard to do? If you're the producer, who (besides maybe Clint Eastwood) would you choose to play Jesus Christ, or Jonas Salk, or Jack Kennedy, or Davy Crockett? (I won't list God, here, because in my opinion no one could ever top George Burns.)

With that in mind, consider this puzzle. Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept it, is to match the following twenty actors and the films in which they portrayed a fictional President of the United States. Answers are at the bottom of the column.

(As I tried to recall these roles, I found myself surprised anew by some of the choices the casting folks made to play our Commander-in-Chief--and in some cases found myself wishing we could've swapped out some real-life Presidents for the ones we saw on the screen.)

Here are the candidates:

1. Henry Fonda
2. Peter Sellers
3. Morgan Freeman
4. Bill Pullman
5. James Cromwell
6. Harrison Ford
7. Donald Pleasence
8. Jeff Bridges
9. Robert Culp
10. Michael Douglas
11. John Travolta
12. Richard Widmark
13. Kevin Kline
14. Gene Hackman
15. Ronny Cox
16. Cliff Robertson
17. Charles Durning
18. William Hurt
19. Fredrick March
20. Jack Nicholson

And the movies:

A. Air Force One
B. Seven Days in May
C. The Pelican Brief
D. Escape From New York
E. Absolute Power
F. Dave
G. Vanished
H. The Sum of All Fears
I. Captain America
J. Vantage Point
K. Deep Impact
L. Independence Day
M. Dr. Strangelove
N. Escape From L.A.
O. Mars Attacks!
P. The Contender
Q. Fail-Safe
R. The American President
S. Twilight's Last Gleaming
T. Primary Colors

A few observations: My pick for the best movie performance as POTUS would be Morgan Freeman, and (although I didn't include television series, here) I think the best TV prez was The West Wing's Martin Sheen. The best portrayal of a real President was probably Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln.

To me, the most unlikely casting choices were Jack Nicholson and Jeff Bridges (can't get The Big Lebowski out of my brain, here)--but Bridges did what I thought was an outstanding job.

For those of you patient enough to have given this little match-puzzle a try, here are the answers:

1-Q -- Henry Fonda, Fail-Safe
2-M -- Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove
3-K -- Morgan Freeman, Deep Impact
4-L -- Bill Pullman, Independence Day
5-H -- James Cromwell, The Sum of All Fears
6-A -- Harrison Ford, Air Force One
7-D -- Donald Pleasence, Escape From New York
8-P -- Jeff Bridges, The Contender
9-C -- Robert Culp, The Pelican Brief
10-R -- Michael Douglas, The American President
11-T -- John Travolta, Primary Colors
12-G -- Richard Widmark, Vanished
13-F -- Kevin Kline, Dave
14-E -- Gene Hackman, Absolute Power
15-I -- Ronny Cox, Captain America
16-N -- Cliff Robertson, Escape From L.A.
17-S -- Charles Durning, Twilight's Last Gleaming
18-J -- William Hurt, Vantage Point
19-B -- Fredrick March, Seven Days in May
20-O -- Jack Nicholson, Mars Attacks!

These are of course not all instances, but these came first to mind. Anybody know of others? Can you think of some actors who did an especially good--or bad--job?

NOTE: I'll be back in two weeks, and--having temporarily satisfied my Netflix fix--I will then try to produce a column more in keeping with mysteries or writing, or both. No promises, though.

Love them movies . . .


  1. John, the first movie that came to my mind was James Coburn in The President's Analyst--but in that one, James Coburn played the analyst, and the President isn't even listed in the cast; the viewer saw only the back of his head. And because you didn't include TV, you missed the most Presidential of the lot, the one I spent most of the Bush administration wishing was the real one: Martin Sheen in The West Wing.

  2. Liz, I saw The President's Analyst while in college, and still remember it.

    When putting together the list, my first thought was of Gene Hackman in No Way Out, but only remembered at the last minute that he played the Secretary of Defense, not the Prez. (If you like twist endings, by the way, that movie has a great one.)

  3. I'm going back to the original idea of what would be the hardest role for an actor to play - and I think the hardest role today is a virgin who is also a good, normal, healthy, interesting person. It's one of the main problems with PBS presentations of Victorian novels - the actresses can't seem to get down to that level of innocence and keep it real, and the actors - well, that's one of the reasons I was so impressed with Steve Carrell in "The 40 Year Old Virgin." He pulled it off.

    Back to Presidents - I agree with your picks, especially Daniel Day Lewis, who is a shape shifter.

  4. That was fun. I got nine, although I haven't seen most of them. Some you missed: Jamie Foxx in White House Down, and Aaron Eckhart in Olympus is Fallen (two current movies with the same plot), and E.G. Marshall in a bad wig in Superman 2.

    The President's Analyst is one of my favorite movies. The video, oddly enough, leaves out a key scene, I imagine because they didn't have the rights tot he music that played over it.

  5. Eve, I bet you're right, about the innocent roles--I never thought of that.

    I heard DDL even wanted to be addressed as "Mr. Lincoln" off set, during filming. Looking at him, it was hard to believe this was the same guy who starred in Last of the Mohicans.

    Rob, I haven't seen either White House or Olympus. I started to include E.G. and didn't.

  6. John, I agree wholeheartedly with your choices. Freeman is such a talented actor that he can play an illiterate chauffeur, a convict or the POTUS with utter believability. Lewis was superb. And Sheen was one of the most likeable presidents one could ever hope for.

    I didn't take the test because I knew I would do poorly. I was right.

  7. Herschel, the only tests that I do well on are the ones I create, because that way I know the answers. And I suspect that you don't watch as many movies as I do, which is a point in your favor. I watch way too many . . .

  8. Rob,
    According to Ted Flicker, the writer/director of THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST, the secondary rights to the Barry McGuire song (not "Eve of Destruction") were at issue, so if you're lucky enough to see the picture at a revival house, say, that lovemaking-and-assassinations scene is included in the print, but cut from video release. Flicker also says, with the evidence to back him up, that J. Edgar Hoover was so offended by the movie, he got Paramount to pull it from theaters, in spite of the fact that it was doing good box office.

  9. David, I never knew that, about The President's Analyst. (You guys have made me want to watch it again, although it sounds like it'll be without one of the big scenes.) I do vaguely remember the soundtrack (Lalo Schifrin?).

    I've heard that movie described as "satirical counter-culture." The important thing is, it was both clever and hilarious.


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