austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander

Turner Classic Movies recently showed Kisses For My President, which I became aware of when bunny_hugger and I saw it in the National Museum of American History at an exhibit of Presidents In The Movies. This comedy, starring Fred MacMurray as Thad McCloud, the First First Husband, dates to 1964 and she and I figured we knew it all from the premise, the exasperated looks of MacMurray in the advertising material, and a clip from the end where President Woman resigns her post so she can be a Mommy.

And yet ... if you're a sympathetic viewer, there's some stuff to like about it. The center thing to like is Fred MacMurray; maybe there's some actor who better portrays comical exasperation, but you can't think of who either. And if you're willing to give the film a huge line of credit you can even make out a sane, that is to say feminist, agenda at work here. The core of the movie's story is how Thad McCloud is trapped by the uselessness of his role as First Spouse. He'd been the president of a bustling electronics firm back when that was the big exciting thing; now, he's ... approving the lunch menu and smiling for garden parties. For at least a bit the way society threw away the intelligence, initiative, and imagination of so many people is palpable.

Ah, but the it putters around to a storyline about McCloud showing the Dictator President of Banana Republica (Eli Wallach) around town, including driving a Jaguar D-Type obscenely fast, jumping a ski-boat over a ramp in the Potomac (along the way spreading the rumor that Washington had tossed a silver dollar across that river; ``actually'' --- since it didn't happen anyway --- it was the Rappahannock), and taking him to a strip joint. Or getting a wee bit stoned for a television tour of the White House (on two doses of tranquilizers, one of amphetamines, and a good shot of bourbon) in the good old days when mood-altering drugs were the only way to get through the day. Or foiling a demagogic senator by noticing he's the former partner of a law firm that's now --- brace yourself --- lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, to the shock of the assembled media. There's also a plot thread where one of McCloud's old girlfriends wants him as a showpiece for her cosmetics company, while he thinks he's actually being hired to run the men's division.

It's not a good movie by any sense of the term, but, after a few awkward scenes playing up the Haw haw, he has the woman's job! --- and I should note that nobody on-screen is patronizing or demeaning to President Leslie McCloud (Polly Bergen) --- that fades into the background and you can settle for watching Fred MacMurray being comically exasperated.

Trivia: The rent at 39 Broadway, New York City, where George Washington set up as his official residence in 1790, was $2,500 per year. Source: Gotham: A History Of New York City To 1898, Edwin G Burrows, Mike Wallace.

Currently Reading: A People's History Of The United States, Howard Zimm.


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