By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: The President goes nuts.
The President of the United States (Dan Resin) is going insane and it has become painfully obvious to all those around him. He wants to suspend congress and elections and has created concentration camps where hippies and other ‘liberal subversives’ are taken and he even drowns mice in buckets of water for relaxation. His staff decides it is up to them to take him out before he puts the country at risk. They hold a gumball lottery and whoever picks the gumball that has the number one on it will be chosen to carry out the assassination. The oldest member of the group who is 90 gets it, but when he chokes on the gumball while chewing it before putting in his dentures it is then up to the Secretary of Health (Richard B. Shull), but the President has spies that have infiltrated the group and is fully aware of what they are trying to do and has a secret plan of his own.
This film is satire the way it should be. It makes fun of both sides and manages to get more hits than misses. It was made in an age before political correctness and wasn’t afraid of who it might offend and thus throws it all out there in a creatively reckless and experimental fashion making it enjoyable all the way through. The pace is breezy and a terrific time capsule to a bygone era.
There are some unique scenes here that you won’t see anywhere else. Some of the highlights include a 4-man ‘hand band’ where a group of men get together to play ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ for an audience by cupping their hands together. The scene where the President’s army attacks and beats hippies at a commune that is done in slow motion and to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’ by Judy Collins is effective and the twist ending involving a wooden leg isn’t bad either.
Director Fred Levinson shows great potential. The variety of camera angles, stylish editing and knowing humor are all first-rate and should have been the start of a great career. Unfortunately the rumor is that Richard Nixon didn’t like the film and considered it a personal insult and used his connections to put pressure on the studios not to distribute it, which eventually led to it falling into complete obscurity. The only other thing that Levinson did afterwards was directing the famous Hertz commercials that featured O.J. Simspson sprinting through an airport terminal, which is a real shame and waste.
Gary Sandy, who later became famous for playing Andy Travis in the classic TV-series ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ is highly engaging as a radical hippie leader who disguises himself as an army general. Brandon Maggart is also amusing as a nervous National Guard Sergeant.
The only weak link is Resin as the President. He is probably best known for playing the Tidy Bowl man in some TV-commercials during the 70’s. Here his performance is sterile and one-note. Shull and Dick O’Neill come off as much more interesting simply because they are far better actors.
The film is dated, but in a fun way. It brings back to life the chaotic atmosphere of the era and makes you feel like you are being thrown into the middle of it. The film is extremely rare and hard-to-find, but worth a look if you can locate it.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Alternate Title: Hail to the Chief
Released: July 27, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes
Director: Fred Levinson
Studio: Cine Globe
Available: None at this time.