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All the presidents' men in movies

Oliver Stone's W., which opened Friday, is the first-ever movie dramatization of a sitting U.S. president's term of office. Movies about presidents usually come decades or centuries after their terms. Most are documentaries and made-for-television productions. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are the most popular lives to essay; nobody's interested in making movies about James K. Polk and Rutherford B. Hayes. But these 10 presidents are recurring subjects on film and video, with enough fine performances to make choosing favorites fun. In fact, you can cast your own vote for your favorite at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.



President George Washington: Barry Bostwick, George Washington, George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation.

Yes, "Brad Majors" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the best father of our country ever filmed. Mostly since Washington hasn't been a major character in many Revolutionary War movies.

Running mates: David Morse, John Adams; Jeff Daniels, The Crossing; Richard Basehart, Valley Forge.



President John F. Kennedy: William Devane, The Missiles of October (1974)

Kennedy's toughest days as president — keeping the world from blowing up during the Cuban missile crisis — were methodically detailed in this TV movie. Devane's clipped Massachusetts accent and uncanny resemblance to Kennedy earned an Emmy nomination.

Running mates: Bruce Greenwood, Thirteen Days (2000); Martin Sheen, Kennedy (1983).



President Abraham Lincoln: Gregory Peck, The Blue and the Gray (1982)

Until Tom Hanks plays our 16th president, there's no other actor capable of exuding Lincoln's common-man nobility and Civil War steadiness taught by history books.

Running mates: Henry Fonda, Young Mr. Lincoln; Hal Holbrook, North and South; Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, How the West Was Won; Dennis Weaver, The Great Man's Whiskers.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Edward Herrmann, Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years; Annie.

Born in Washington D.C. while FDR was in office, Herrmann later channeled the president's optimistic determination in fighting polio and World War II. Not to mention his romantic side.

Running mates: Ralph Bellamy, Sunrise at Campobello, The Winds of War, War and Remembrance; Kenneth Branagh, Warm Springs; Jason Robards, FDR: The Last Year. President Abraham Lincoln: Gregory Peck, The Blue and the Gray (1982).

Until Tom Hanks plays our 16th president, there's no other actor capable of exuding Lincoln's common-man nobility and Civil War steadiness taught by history books.

Running mates: Henry Fonda, Young Mr. Lincoln; Hal Holbrook, North and South; Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, How the West Was Won; Dennis Weaver, The Great Man's Whiskers. President John F. Kennedy: William Devane, The Missiles of October (1974).

Kennedy's toughest days as president — keeping the world from blowing up during the Cuban missile crisis — were methodically detailed in this TV movie. Devane's clipped Massachusetts accent and uncanny resemblance to Kennedy earned an Emmy nomination.

Running mates: Bruce Greenwood, Thirteen Days (2000); Martin Sheen, Kennedy (1983).

President George Washington: Barry Bostwick, George Washington, George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation.

Yes, "Brad Majors" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the best father of our country ever filmed. Mostly since Washington hasn't been a major character in many Revolutionary War movies.

Running mates: David Morse, John Adams; Jeff Daniels, The Crossing; Richard Basehart, Valley Forge.

President Ronald Reagan: James Brolin, The Reagans.

While Josh Brolin impersonates George W. Bush in W., his father beat him to the punch with a cartoonish portrayal of the Gipper in office.

Running mates: Richard Crenna, The Day Reagan Was Shot; Reagan in any of his movies. President Theodore Roosevelt: Brian Keith, The Wind and the Lion.

Bully for the dad from Family Affair, riding rough against a formidable Berber chieftain (Sean Connery) in a classic 1970's action flick.

Running mates: Robin Williams, Night at the Museum; Tom Berenger, Rough Riders. President John Adams: Paul Giamatti, John Adams.

Playing the bristly, driven Adams was squarely in Giamatti's wheelhouse, after perfecting the style in films such as Sideways and American Splendor.

Running mates: William Daniels, 1776; George Grizzard, The Adams Chronicles.

President Richard M. Nixon: Anthony Hopkins, Nixon.

Hopkins nailed this tricky (Dick) role, mining near-Shakespearean drama from the rise, fall, rise and another fall of a fascinating figure.

Running mates: Philip Baker Hall, Secret Honor and a wild guess: Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, opening in December.

President Thomas Jefferson: Nick Nolte, Jefferson in Paris.

The movie was a dud but watching Nolte bearishly wrestle with portraying a colonial gentleman was perversely fun.

Running mates: Ken Howard, 1776; Stephen Dillane, John Adams.

President Harry Truman: James Whitmore, Give 'Em Hell, Harry.

Only twice has a movie's entire cast been nominated for Oscars: Sleuth (Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine) and Whitmore's one-man stage triumph, filmed for posterity.

Running mates: Gary Sinise, Truman; Robert Vaughn, The Man from Independence.

President Richard M. Nixon: Anthony Hopkins, Nixon

Hopkins nailed this tricky (Dick) role, mining near-Shakespearean drama from the rise, fall, rise and another fall of a fascinating figure.

Running mates: Philip Baker Hall, Secret Honor and a wild guess: Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, opening in December.



President John Adams: Paul Giamatti, John Adams

Playing the bristly, driven Adams was squarely in Giamatti's wheelhouse, after perfecting the style in films such as Sideways and American Splendor.

Running mates: William Daniels, 1776; George Grizzard, The Adams Chronicles.



President Ronald Reagan: James Brolin, The Reagans

While Josh Brolin impersonates George W. Bush in W., his father beat him to the punch with a cartoonish portrayal of the Gipper in office.

Running mates: Richard Crenna, The Day Reagan Was Shot; Reagan in any of his movies.



President Theodore Roosevelt: Brian Keith, The Wind and the Lion

Bully for the dad from Family Affair, riding rough against a formidable Berber chieftain (Sean Connery) in a classic 1970's action flick.

Running mates: Robin Williams, Night at the Museum; Tom Berenger, Rough Riders.



President Harry Truman: James Whitmore, Give 'Em Hell, Harry

Only twice has a movie's entire cast been nominated for Oscars: Sleuth (Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine) and Whitmore's one-man stage triumph, filmed for posterity.

Running mates: Gary Sinise, Truman; Robert Vaughn, The Man from Independence.



President Thomas Jefferson: Nick Nolte, Jefferson in Paris

The movie was a dud but watching Nolte bearishly wrestle with portraying a colonial gentleman was perversely fun.

Running mates: Ken Howard, 1776; Stephen Dillane, John Adams.



Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.

In Floridian

Why does Oliver Stone's take on George W. Bush play more like a TV movie? Times film critic Steve Persall can point to several reasons.

All the presidents' men in movies 10/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 9:53am]

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