SECRET HONOR (1984)
Thirty years after his administration and people are still fascinated by Richard Nixon. He has been played in film by a wide range of actors, from Beau Bridges to Dan Hedaya to Anthony Hopkins. Most recently, he was portrayed by Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon as a smooth political operator who somehow can't help but sabotage himself. It is this strange contradiction that so many directors and actors have tried to capture on screen. Nixon is an enigma to most people; a man who was clearly intelligent and shrewd, but would eventually self destruct if given enough time. He desperately wanted to be liked, but realized that this intense desire only drove the public further away from him. He was so visibly uncomfortable in public that one wonders how he was in private. How did he see himself? What was he like in his most unguarded moments?
These are the questions that director Robert Altman sought to answer in his brilliant film Secret Honor. Taking place at some point after Nixon's resignation, the film captures an hour and a half of the disgraced ex-president by himself. This is not to imply that it is a silent film, of course. Quite the opposite. Nixon speaks into a tape recorder, making memos to an unseen secretary. During these memos, Nixon will often fly off the handle, shouting expletives about Kissinger, Kennedy, and all the rest who toiled to bring him down.
Played with ferocious intensity by Phillip Baker Hall, Nixon is here laid bare for all to see. One must credit Altman, who notoriously hated Nixon, for his willingness to show every aspect of this man. At times during the 90-minute monologue, we laugh at the ridiculousness of this delusional old man. Then, without warning, we find ourselves pitying him (as he undoubtedly pitied himself). Secret Honor takes the audience on a strange journey into the heart of one of the most mysterious figures in American history and reminds us that, no matter how much we may have hated Nixon, he probably hated himself more.