Presidency on Film

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
The Presidency on Film
by Beth Rowen

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The scandalous presidential film is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, films about our country's chief executive have mostly been reverential and have tended to steer clear of the president's personal life. But during the past several years, particularly during Clinton's administration, Hollywood has shattered the president's squeaky-clean image and has grown increasingly skeptical of the leader of the free world and his formerly sacrosanct office. Here's a look at some of the most memorable films about presidents, from hagiography to exposés of presidential peccadilloes.

Gabriel Over the White House (1933)
Director: Gregory La Cava. Cast: Walter Huston, Karen Morley, Franchot Tone, Arthur S. Byron
In his first of several presidential roles, Walter Huston plays President Judson Hammond, a lackadaisical chief executive all too willing to tow the party line and ride out his term with little concern for a constituency mired in the Depression. That's until his miraculous recovery from a car accident leaves him a changed man. He wakes from a coma, dissolves Congress and institutes a series of sweeping social programs à la FDR. Is this leader's transformation from lackey to fascist something to admire or dread? Who's to say, but he did get the job done.

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
Director: John Ford. Cast: Henry Fonda, Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver, Donald Meek
Though John Ford's character study doesn't chronicle Honest Abe's years in office, the film does trace his political rise, from down-home merchant to lawyer to politician. And Henry Fonda's Abe is ever honest, with all the homespun virtues Americans could ever want in a leader.

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