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Secret Honor (1984)

7.4
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 1,473 users  
Reviews: 23 user | 35 critic

A fictionalized former President Richard M. Nixon offers a solitary, stream-of-consciousness reflection on his life and political career - and the "true" reasons for the Watergate scandal and his resignation.

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Title: Secret Honor (1984)

Secret Honor (1984) on IMDb 7.4/10

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Storyline

In this speculative one-man drama, we see former President Richard Milhous Nixon alone in his study, dictating his thoughts into a tape recorder. His only company are a four-screen closed-circuit TV setup, the portraits on the walls, a bottle of Chivas Regal - and a loaded pistol. At times addressing an imaginary judge in a court of public opinion, at other times speaking to an aide named Roberto, and sometimes just talking to himself, the former chief executive reflects, in a series of meandering monologues, on his humble Quaker upbringing, his school days, his family and a political career that reached all the way to the White House. Nixon rails at his treatment by the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the "goddam Kennedys," J. Edgar Hoover, Henry Kissinger, Jews, liberals, the media, "East Coast shits," among others, as he leads up to the "true" reasons for the Watergate scandal that resulted in his resignation - an act he regards as one of "secret honor." Written by Eugene Kim <genekim@concentric.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Anyone can BE the President.

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

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Release Date:

29 January 1986 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Secret Honor  »

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The source stage show's actual complete long title was "Secret Honor: The Last Testament of Richard M. Nixon". See more »

Goofs

President Nixon presses the record button on his cassette tape recorder and begins recording, but a few moments later realizes that there is no cassette tape in the recorder. Cassette tape recorders have a trip bar inside the cassette compartment that make it impossible for the user to press the record button if no cassette is in the recorder. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Richard Nixon: Testing, one, two, three, four.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Directors: The Films of Robert Altman (2001) See more »

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User Reviews

 
a great piece of one-man theater that gets tight, sometimes Bergman-esquire film-making
16 December 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Richard Nixon, a man known for many things, amongst which trying to reach out to the "silent majority" of America, while plunging the country further into war and getting into one of the big cover-ups of the nation, is given a character here. It's not necessarily the man altogether, but like Oliver Stone's Nixon, it's an interpretation given a blood-life by way of Donald Freed and Arnold Stone's script (which is maybe the 2nd best thing about the film), Robert Altman's peering, sometimes paranoid, but tight compositions, and Philip Baker Hall. This actor is one of the unsung masters of character acting, even when he sometimes can only just be 'himself' in the roles. Here his inhabitance, more than portrayal, of Nixon captures (as Antony Hopkins did in his own way) the soul of the man dead-on.

It's a one-man film, so that Hall's work here has to be better than top-notch, it has to be engrossing. Nixon as a political being, family man, lawyer, and practically professional liar, are given shape here by his near-movie length confession into a tape recorder. This could be a tricky thing for Altman and Hall to pull off, but for pretty much the entire film they do. One thing I loved was how sometimes Altman would cut-away from his actor and get shots on Nixon on the security monitors installed in his office/room (where he spend the duration of the film in). There were also some very evocative, powerful shots of Hall as Nixon reflected against the window, this being even closer to Nixon- a ghost or some other entity- than Hall.

But in the end, even for all that Altman could do (which is really just to let the camera roll and maybe give Hall a word or two when needed), it is really Hall who has all the credit going for him here. What works best about what he does here is the time he takes, how his acting is made almost like music- he'll speed up, get frustrated/angry/cynical in his own sometimes scrambled recollections of the past, then slow down in self-shame asking to erase parts of the tape (to whomever may be listening, if at all). Here is a man whom in real life was a smart man, but also paranoid to a fault, with as many personal demons as detractors, and who could always be counted on to be pushing forth a lie to the American public. Hall gives him life here, in this "fictional" account as a tortured, flawed, drunken leftover of days gone by. That sometimes it becomes even more moving than expected, and revelatory, makes it all the more clear why it still remains Hall's landmark in his career (among others, like in PT Anderson's films), and that for Altman it's dark, brooding, and like a Bergman film, does NOT make it's doomed subject into a one-dimensional being.


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