Shattered Politics #21: Kisses For My President (dir by Curtis Bernhardt)


If there’s anyone who deserves to be the subject of a big budget biopic, it’s Victoria C. Woodhull.  Back in the 19th century, at a time when women were not even allowed to vote, Victoria C. Woodhull was not only the first woman to ever work as a stockbroker but also the first to ever found her own newspaper.  A fierce advocate for women’s right and free love, Victoria Woodhull was also the first woman to ever run for President.  She was nominated in 1872 by the Equal Rights Party and, for the crime of trying to cast a vote for herself, she spent election day in jail.

Since that day, many more women have run for President but none have been elected.  Since 1984, two women have received major party nominations for vice president but neither came close to being elected.  Since 1964, Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Patsy Mink, Ellen McCormack, Patricia Schroeder, Elizabeth Dole, Carol Mosely-Braun, Michele Bachman, and Hillary Rodham Clinton have all campaigned for the presidential nomination of one of the two major political parties but none of them have been nominated.

I do believe that a woman will be elected President within my lifetime.  In fact, it could even happen in 2016.  But until then, the only place where you can find a female President is on TV and in the movies.

Take, for instance, today’s final entry in Shattered Politics, the 1964 film Kisses For My President.  This may very well have been the very first movie to feature a woman as President.  Needless to say, in 1964, this idea was considered so outrageous that it had to be played for laughs.

Kisses For My President starts with an image of hundreds of women chanting “We want Leslie!”  We get a shot of Fred MacMurray looking out over the crowd.  The next scene, the new President is being sworn in.  We start with a close-up of the chief justice reciting the oath of office to “Leslie Harrison McCloud.”  The camera pans over to Fred MacMurray, listening intently.  However, just when 1964 audiences were expecting MacMurray to swear to uphold the constitution, the camera pans yet again, over to …. Polly Bergen!

“OH MY GOD!” audiences in 1964 gasped, “LESLIE McCLOUD IS A WOMAN!”

That’s right.  Polly Bergen is playing President Leslie McCloud and Fred MacMurray is playing her husband, Thad.  As the film makes apparent in its opening scenes, Thad is not quite sure what his role is supposed to be.  He has an office in the White House but it’s just so … feminine!  And it’s full of painting of previous first ladies who were all ladies!  And, at one point, Thad even imagines a picture of himself wearing a lady’s hat!

Oh my God!

Now, to be fair to the movie, Polly Bergen does get a few scenes where she shows herself to be a strong President.  There’s a great scene where she coolly dismisses a condescending senator (Edward Andrews) who suggests that, as a woman, Leslie might not be up to the task of standing up to America’s enemies.  It’s a brief scene but it’s a good one.

But, ultimately, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Kisses For My President, a film about the first female President, is mostly interested in how Thad handles being “first gentleman.”  It’s a film that imagines a historic moment for women and then focuses on what it would mean for one man.

How 1964!

On the one hand, Kisses For My President is a dated comedy that runs way too long and tries to get too much mileage out of one joke (i.e., Fred MacMurray looking confused).  However, the film also features a great performance from Eli Wallach.  Playing a strutting dictator named Vasquez, Wallach is a lot of fun and the scenes where MacMurray shows him around Washington are the best in the film.  I also appreciated the fact that the President’s daughter reacts to the restrictions of living in the White House by dating a guy that she knows her parents will hate, largely because I would have done the same thing in her situation.

I’m a little bit torn on the ending of Kisses For My President.  (Should I spoil it?  No, I don’t think I will.)  On the one hand, it’s outrageously sexist and seems to suggests that Leslie — despite being a strong President during the few times we actually get to see her doing the job — should have been content to just be a wife and mother.  On the other hand, it’s one of those endings that would seem to perfectly capture the dominant culture of the time when the film was made.  So, it has some worth from a historical point of view.

When last I checked, Kisses For My President is currently available for free on YouTube. The film is interesting as a historical document if nothing else.


Film Review: The Apparition (dir. by Todd Lincoln)

Since it opened last Friday, the new PG-13 horror film The Apparition hasn’t been getting much love from either critics or audiences.  When last I checked, the film had a 3% approval rating over at Rotten Tomatoes and it had gotten exactly one positive review.  However, if I’ve made one thing very clear in my reviews here on the Shattered Lens, it’s that I hate the bandwagon mentality that runs rampant throughout the online film community.  So, instead of immediately focusing on The Apparition’s (many) faults, I’m going to start this review by pointing out a few positive things about this film.

The Apparition is only 82 minutes long and is shorter than both Avatar and David Fincher’s rip-off of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The Apparation is not in 3-D.

The Apparition is not a found footage film.  There’s no attempt made to try to insult your intelligence by convincing you that you’re watching something that actually happened 20 years ago.

Though an adorable (if intrusive) dog dies early on, no cats are harmed during the course of this movie.

The film’s final 10 minutes are actually rather effective and oddly disturbing.  Solely on the basis of the film’s final scenes, I would probably see the next movie that Todd Lincoln directs.

Finally, if you’re like me and you enjoy making out at the movies, The Apparition is the perfect film to see.  First off, it’s a horror movie and, even though nothing scary actually happens for the majority of the film, you can always fake being scared as an excuse to grab your man.  (And, as we all know, sometimes you just have to fake it…) Secondly, chances are that if you two do see The Apparition, you’ll pretty much have the entire theater to yourself.  Third, since nothing really happens for the most of the movie, you won’t have to worry about missing anything important while you two are having your fun.

As for the film itself, it tells a story that should be familiar to anyone who has seen Paranormal Activity or Insidious

Kelly (Ashley Greene) and her boyfriend Ben (Sebastian Stan) are taking care of a house located in a nearly deserted subdivision.    We spend the first half of the movie getting to know Kelly and Ben.  We follow them as they debate what to have for lunch, as they shop at Costco, and as they play video games.  We quickly discover that, together, Kelly and Ben are perhaps the most boring couple ever.  Seriously, I have had nightmares about befriending a couple like Kelly and Ben and then having to attend a couples party at their house where all the other couples play Pictionary and want to tell you all the details about the last time they went snowboarding at Telluride.

Of course, a huge part of the problem with Ben and Kelly, as a couple, is that the actors playing them have next to no chemistry.  Watching Greene and Stan on-screen, you have a hard time believing that they’ve even known each other for five minutes, let alone that they’re enough in love that they would stay together even after it becomes apparent that there’s some sort of otherworldly demon chasing after Ben as the result of a séance that he attended 3 years ago.

One of the frustrating things about The Apparition is that, occasionally, you can see hints of the movie that it could have been if the script had been a little bit sharper and if the performances were a little less flat.  Visually, Lincoln does a good job of highlighting the isolation of the house and, even if he didn’t quite succeed, I can appreciate what he was attempting with the slow build up.  But this is one of those films where every effective moment is immediately answered by two moments that don’t work.  This is a film that’s smart enough to have Kelly demand to leave the haunted house, just to then reveal that leaving means camping out in a tent that’s been set up in the back yard.

(Even worse, the film later establishes that there’s actually a pretty nice motel within driving distance of the house.  You really do have to wonder why Kelly — who was so terrified that she literally ran out of the house in her underwear — would feel safer just because she’s now staying in a tent that’s about two feet away from the demon that’s trying to kill her.  Then again, I hate camping so maybe it’s something that I’m just not capable of understanding.)

Finally, if you’re like me and you’re still suffering withdrawal pains from the end of the Harry Potter films, you might want to see this film just for the chance to see Tom Fenton playing the role of Ben’s friend Patrick.  Unfortunately, Fenton’s only in about ten minutes of the film and Patrick, sad to say, is no Draco.