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Secret Honor (1984)

Not Rated | | Biography, Comedy, Drama | 29 January 1986 (France)
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.


Robert Altman


Donald Freed (play), Arnold M. Stone (play) | 2 more credits »
1 win. See more awards »




Complete credited cast:
Philip Baker Hall ... Richard Nixon
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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>

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Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Did You Know?


One of the many filmed plays Robert Altman directed in the 1980's, almost consecutively, along with Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), Streamers (1983) and Fool for Love (1985). See more »


As President Nixon is speaking, a closeup of the sound meter on the recorder shows that the needle of the meter does not move. See more »


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

User Reviews

Altman does Nixon
10 March 2009 | by tieman64See all my reviews

"You, ladies and gentlemen of the American jury, shall look at the face that is under the mask!" - Philip Baker Hall (Richard Nixon)

It takes 12 minutes for Robert Altman's "Secret Honor" to really get going, the audience having to endure some terribly dated TV music and lots of theatrical posturing by Philip Baker Hall, but once the actor begins his meaty monologue, it's hard not to be transfixed.

Hall, of course, plays former president Richard Nixon. Recently disgraced by the Watergate fiasco, he prances about his private office with a loaded gun and a glass of whisky, spewing scorn at the Kennedy's, Helen Douglas, Henry Kissinger and a mysterious group called both "The Committee of 100" and "The Bohemian Grove".

Employing students from the University of Michigan, and a script that sticks religiously to a stage play by Donald Freed and Arnold Stone, "Secret Honor" is a fairly small scale project for Altman. Still, there are at least four interesting things being done.

The first is the film's location. Altman doesn't use his small set with the same gusto that Stone does in "Talk Radio", Hitchcock does in "Rear Window" or Lumet does in "12 Angry Men", but he does add his own little flourishes here and there. For example, Altman surrounds Nixon's room with wall-mounted pictures of past presidents and places a huge bank of security monitors to one side. The effect is such that Nixon, whose monologue takes the form of a courtroom plea of defence, is addressing a jury that is at once himself, we the audience and those political figures he both admirers and detests. There's therefore a sense of profound scrutiny, Nixon waging a war for his own innocence, politicians over his shoulders, a security camera in his face, a national audience behind his back and a bank of monitors recording his every move.

The second interesting thing is Hall's performance itself. Unlike Stone's "Nixon" or Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon", "Secret Honour" is categorically not an attempt to portray some "ultimate truth" of Nixon. Instead, Altman creates something more fragmented; a creature with different faces, facets and feelings. Altman demonizes as he humanises, deconstructs as he constructs, each of Hall's anecdotes serving only to further muddy the water. Altman's Nixon is both raging bull and wounded child, Altman content to create a portrait that is as baffling as it is complex.

The third interesting thing is Nixon's insistence that it was a mysterious group of powerful figures who orchestrated and mismanaged his career. He calls them "The Bohemian Grove", a cadre of economic power brokers to whom Nixon is nothing more than a paid lackey and perpetual outsider. Even as he damns them, Nixon mourns that he was never fully accepted by this group.

The fourth interesting thing is Nixon's insistence that he staged Watergate deliberately in an attempt to get himself out of office. This claim is filled with ridiculous reversals. The honourable president made himself guilty, he says, committed a deliberately obvious crime, not because he was a paranoid, power hungry mad man, but because he was too noble, too just and great, to associate further with the cartels, criminals and deplorable politicians who were pulling his strings.

Watergate thus shifts from becoming a criminal act, to an act of nobility. Nixon, the man so used and abused that he had to sacrifice his own career for the greater good. Poor boy.

7.9/10 – This is essentially filmed theatre. Still, Hall delivers a fascinating monologue that is both riveting and demented. Incidentally, Altman pretender Paul Thomas Anderson would use actor Philip Baker Hall extensively throughout his filmography, casting him in "Sydney", "Magnolia" and "Boogie Nights". Worth one viewing.

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29 January 1986 (France) See more »

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