Washington Post film critic and scholar Ann Hornaday has written a fascinating, exactingly researched, justifiably lengthy piece about the making of All The President’s Men. It includes three video summaries (pasted below).
The article is not very kind to the efforts of ATPM‘s late screenwriter William Goldman, but Hornaday did a ton of research (including in-depth discussions with producer-star Robert Redford and Bob Woodward, co-author of the same-titled book that the film was based upon), and this is how the chips fell.
The title is “How All the President’s Men Went From Buddy Flick to Masterpiece.”
The invisible subtitle is “How Everyone Involved In This 1976 Film Except William Goldman Saved It From Goldman’s Initial Drafts, Which Were On The Glossy and Rapscallion Side and Less Than Genuine.”
This despite Hornaday acknowledging that Goldman’s earliest drafts of All the President’s Men “included most of the key beats that defined the early stages of the Watergate investigation.”
Goldman, whom I came to know moderately well over a few lunches at Cafe Boloud in the early to mid Obama years, reported in his Adventures in the Screen Trade account that he had done much if not most of the heavy lifting.
During a meeting with Bob Woodward, Goldman “had asked him to list ‘the crucial events — not the most dramatic but the essentials — that enabled the story eventually to be told,” Hornaday summarizes.
“When Woodward named them — the break-in, the arraignment, his combative collaboration with Bernstein, his late-night meetings with confidential source Deep Throat in an Arlington parking garage, his and Bernstein’s interviews with such key figures as Hugh Sloan, and their work together on an article about a $25,000 check written to CREEP Midwest finance chairman Kenneth Dahlberg — Goldman, according to his account, looked at what he’d written and saw that he’d included every one.”
A key passage in Hornaday’s piece: “The journey of All the President’s Men from mediocrity to triumph tells an alternately sobering and inspiring truth about movies: The great ones are a function of the countless mistakes that didn’t get made — the myriad bad calls, lapses in taste and bouts of bad luck that encase every production like a block of heavy, unyielding stone.”
As noted, the piece presents a case that many if not most of the “mistakes” were Goldman’s. If Goldman is reading this piece in heaven, he’s most likely howling and shaking his fist and punching his refrigerator door.
Hornaday: “This is the story of how producer-star Robert Redford and director Alan Pakula, and the cast and crew they assembled, bullied Goldman’s flawed but structurally brilliant script into art. It’s the story of a perfect movie and imperfect history, a cautionary tale whose lessons — about impunity, abuse of power and intimidation of the press — have taken on new urgency nearly 50 years after its release.
“It’s the story of how what was intended as a small-bore black-and-white character study featuring unknown actors became one of the finest films of the 20th century, one that marked the end of a cinematic era, changed journalism forever and — for better or worse — became the fractal through which we’ve come to understand the dizzyingly complicated saga known as Watergate.”