Since yesterday’s entry in movie a day featured Philip Baker Hall playing Richard Nixon in Secret Honor, I decided to use today’s entry to talk about a movie that featured Lane Smith in the same role.
Based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s follow-up to All The President’s Men, The Final Days is about the final months of the Nixon presidency. The movie begins shortly after the resignations of Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman and follows Nixon (Lane Smith) as he grows increasingly more isolated and reclusive in the White House. All the familiar moments are here, Nixon ranting against the Kennedys and the establishment, Kennedy talking about his difficult childhood, and, most famously, Nixon asking Henry Kissinger (Theodore Bikel) to pray with him on the night before his resignation. The Final Days also focuses on the ambitious men who surrounded Nixon during his downfall and who helped to engineer his eventual resignation, especially Al Haig (David Ogden Stiers).
A lot of very good actors have played Richard Nixon. Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella both received Oscar nominations for playing him and Philip Baker Hall probably should have. Rip Torn, John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Dan Hedaya, and Bob Gunton have all taken a shot at the role. But, in my opinion, no one has done a better job as the 37th president than Lane Smith, who bore about as close a resemblance to Nixon as anyone could without a prosthetic nose. Even more than Anthony Hopkins did in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Lane Smith captured not only Nixon’s insecurity and paranoia but also his provides hints of the great leader that Nixon could have been if not for his own self-destructiveness.