Themes and Frames Within Film

Seduction in All the President’s Men is focused on the gaining of secret knowledge rather than sexual favors.”    – Elizabeth Kraft

Themes

1) The Inferiority of Women

 In All The Presidents Men, a major theme that is presented is the inferiority of women versus men. Throughout the investigation, Woodward and Bernstein attempt to make contact with many men and women within the CRP. The various men that were approached by Woodward and Bernstein refused to cooperate with their questions, and in almost every case were unhelpful and secretive. The women presented in the film however, were portrayed as weak and more susceptible to crack under pressure. The film shows how Bernstein and Woodward questioned many women involved in the CRP’s dealings as if they were the week link in the chain and could be more easily broken than their male counterparts.

There are many examples of this throughout the film. The exclusion of Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, from the film is an example of the filmmakers’ reluctance to display a strong woman figure as superior to main characters in the film. Katherine Graham played a pivotal role in the decision process of what would be printed in the Post and yet is completely left out of the movie (Burdick).

Another example in All the Presidents Men of the inferiority of women is when Bernstein goes to the home of Judy Hoback, the CRP’s bookkeeper. Bernstein enters her home with an heir of superiority that could almost be mistaken for breaking and entering. He slowly eases Hoback into a casual conversation that magically leads to her slowly but surely revealing piece after piece of information, incriminating members of the CRP. When Bernstein returns to Woodward and gives a report of what he found out, the two decide that they must return to question Hoback further and attempt to trick her into disclosing information that she would not verify before. This scene in the film objectifies Judy Hoback as a feminine tool that can be manipulated by Bernstein and Woodward to gain the information they needed.

View video clip #1 on DVD

Scene in which Carl Bernstein visits Judy Hoback at her home and uses her to gain information about members of the CRP.

A second example is how Hugh Sloan’s pregnant wife, Deborah, played a major role in Sloan coming forward to Woodward and Bernstein. She threatened to leave Sloan if he didn’t come clean about the CRP’s involvement in the Watergate burglary. His wife’s pressure added to his own moral motivations to resign and reveal the misconduct to the Grand Jury. This is one of the only examples when a man in the movie comes forward with information rather than a woman. This further supports our claim that the film portrays a theme of inferiority and weakness of women. Sloan did not come forward on his own; his actions were forced by a woman, his wife. This is another example of men refusing to crack under pressure of interrogation, but in this instance, a woman was brought into the picture, leading Sloan to divulge important information.

Another example of this theory is shown in the film as an unnamed, female Washington Post reporter who had been previously engaged to one of the members of the CRP. Woodward and Bernstein ask her to get the list of the CRP members from him and she doesn’t seem very willing to cooperate. The reporters flirt with her and seem to belittle her, interrupting her sentences and talking around the fact that she still cares about her ex-fiance. The pair are essentially using her for the benefit of their investigation. Although the woman is hesitant to fulfill their request, she does provide the list for Woodward and Bernstein. This represents a theme that women can be manipulated by flirtation, and will give any information if approached in a certain manner.

 View video clip #7 on DVD

Clip of Woodward and Berstein asking for full CRP list. 

Another scene from the movie shows Sally Aiken, another Post reporter, who had drinks with Ken Clawson in her apartment. Clawson revealed to her that he wrote the Canuck letter, a forged document claiming that Edmond Muskie held prejudice against Canadian-Americans, hurting his chances of being nominated as the Democratic candidate. Upon hearing this newfound information, Bernstein drags Aiken by the arm around the office of the Post. He takes her to Woodward, where they immediately begin interrogating her. Woodward asks Aiken if Clawson was trying to impress her to get her into bed. If she were a man, they never would have approached her in this manner. (The character of Sally Aiken in the film All The President’s Men is based on the national staff reporter at the Post, Marilyn Berger (Bernstein and Woodward, 137-138). It is unclear to us why exactly they changed the name of this character. It could possibly be that the real Marilyn Berger did not give permission for her name to be use in the film, so the filmmakers had to give her character an alias.)

View Clip #8 on DVD

Bernstein uses Sally Aiken (Marilyn Berger) to get information from the unwilling Ken Clawson about the origins of the Canuck Letter. 

During the time period that this film was made, women in America were beginning to gain many freedoms and equality to men that they had not experienced before. One thing of importance to occur around this time was the passing of legalized abortion during Roe vs. Wade in 1973. The legalization of abortion was a huge step in liberating women to be able to make one life-changing decision for themselves (Glendon). When All The President’s Men was made in 1976 the results of Roe vs. Wade, as it does today, still received much criticism. The depiction of women as being inferior to men may have been an attempt by the writers and director of the film to illustrate their opinion on the subject. It is quite possible that the makers of this film held onto the preconceived notion that women should not be equal to men, and despite the active turn towards women’s equality in the 1970’s allowed their bias to show through in All The President’s Men.

This portrayal of women in the film could have some major implications among those who viewed the movie when it first came out. Upon it’s release, women’s equality was something that was up in the air. People at this time who were actively trying to decide where they stood on the subject of women’s equality could have had their opinions swayed by watching the way women were shown in All The President’s Men. The scary thing about this is that viewers of the film probably don’t even realize they are having their opinion manipulated. The theme of women’s inferiority is not something that is blatantly thrown in the viewer’s face, but rather it is subtly incorporated into the actions of many characters.

2) The Dynamic-Duo Partnership

Another theme in All The President’s Men is the “dynamic-duo” relationship shown between Woodward and Bernstein. Movie-goers thrive on mushy love stories, good pitted against evil, and the classic hero and sidekick relationship. From the beginning of All the President’s Men, the plot of the story heavily relies on the relationship of the two reporters, Woodward and Bernstein. Their working relationship is painted to be Batman and Robin-esque, showing Woodward taking on the role of the strong leader with Bernstein at his side.

View Clip #9 on DVD

This clip shows Woodward taking a huge leap forward in the investigation for the Post by tracking down and contacting Kenneth Dahlberg. In the end of the clip he is contacted by Bernstein who had been getting nowhere chasing leads in Florida, and tells him he already got the information Bernstein was after. This shows how Woodward was portrayed in the film as the lead, with Bernstein somewhat tailing behind.

Woodward is shown as a strong, confident authoritative figure, while Bernstein is made out to be a slightly less capable reporter, constantly striving to keep up with Woodward’s leads. This portrayal makes the film more attractive to viewers, who enjoy romanticized relationships. This theme in the film also forms emotional ties between viewers and the characters rather than focusing on structural plot progression. Bernstein and Woodward’s relationship in All the President’s Men is not completely accurate. Woodward, in many accounts, is much more shy and reserved than he is represented onscreen. Bernstein was actually a far more confident writer, having been in journalism since he was only 16. In the film, Woodward is shown to be a much more confident writer and journalist and the leader of the investigative duo, which is not necessarily factual. This representation may distract viewers from the true depiction of historical events. Rather than reading into the text of the movie, viewers may get caught up in face-value relationships that were created solely for the sake of entertainment.

Frames

“All the President’s Men” is a mostly well-portrayed historical account of the journalistic reporting dealing with the Watergate scandal. However, the movie serves to fulfill entertainment purposes rather than complete historical accuracy at times. The reporting process is shown as a fast-paced sequence of “one sensational event after another”(Woodstein Meets Deep Throat). With only an allotted amount of time available, it is impossible to fully illustrate the difficulty Bernstein and Woodward experienced in gathering the many sources and information needed to complete each story.

Viewers of the movie that are fully relying on the film as a source of information may believe that discovering the truth about the Watergate scandal was a smooth process with few speed-bumps along the way. They also will probably not realize the full significance of each person involved in the scandal. For example, Judy Hoback’s name (the bookkeeper who begrudgingly told Bernstein about the extent of the CRP’s financial involvement in illicit activities) was never revealed in the movie. Her cooperation as a source was essential to the investigation, and the movie’s failure to fully reveal her identity leaves viewers in the dark about her importance to the progression of the story. This is an example of gate-keeping.  The film-makers released a portion of the information needed, but failed to include all important details that may change the way the event could be interpreted by viewers.

Because the movie was pandering, in some ways, to an entertainment standpoint rather than purely historical, many of the moral issues and much of the background detail were forgotten or not adequately covered. Hugh Sloan, treasurer of the CRP, faced a major moral dilemma in deciding whether or not he would come forward to the Grand Jury and reveal information that would incriminate many prominent members within the Republican party. This, and many other difficult moral and ethical issues that were made during the events following the Watergate break-in, were not shown in the film as well as they could have been. This leaves viewers with a lacking understanding of how difficult some of the decisions and actions that had to be made during this time were on those responsible.

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