THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995)
This delightful romantic comedy focuses on the relationship between the fictional US President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) and a lobbyist named Sydney Ellen Wade portrayed by Annette Bening and the impact their romance has on his chances of re-election. The movie is stolen by Miss Bening who is bubbly and quite stunning from beginning to end. She is ably supported by Douglas and a strong bevy of character actors that include Martin Sheen, Michael J Fox, Richard Dreyfuss, Samantha Mathis, John Mahoney and David Paymer. Make no mistake, however, that the film belongs lock, stock and barrel to the wife of Warren Beatty.
Michael J. Fox as Lewis in The American President
Prior to the commencement of shooting the picture, Michael J Fox was still keeping his Parkinson’s disease a secret, concerned that he would lose his role if director Rob Reiner found out about it. Fox’s left hand periodically shook, but he took his medication before routine fitness screening, in time to quell the shaking. Fortunately for him, the test amounted to nothing more than checking heart-rate and blood pressure, so his condition remained a secret.
Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade
President Bill Clinton and his staff generously granted permission for the cast and production design team to visit the White House on no fewer than five occasions. The Oval Office set was originally constructed for the movie Dave (1993) and used for The West Wing (1999) television series. Camp David, on the other hand, has always been strictly off-limits to the public and the media. Consequently, production designer Lilly Kilvert was forced to compromise. When designing the Camp David set she managed to use someone’s personal snapshots from the Richard Nixon era, along with a liberal dose of her own imagination to arrive at the desired effect. When this film was made Pennsylvania Avenue was still open to vehicular traffic. It has since been closed due to the Oklahoma bombing of the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building.
Writer Aaron Sorkin
Much of the picture’s success can be attributed to the superb screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin. He, incidentally, also penned the screenplays for The West Wing and The Newsroom (2012-14), A Few Good Men (1992), and would later write the screenplay for Charlie Wilson’s War in 2007 and The Trial of the Chicago 7 in 2020. In this writer’s opinion, Sorkin is the best screenwriter in American movies today. Early versions of his script for The American President depicted President Shepherd as a military veteran and former Special Ops agent, before Sorkin’s rewrites transitioned him to a more academic character. Incidentally, a typical movie script is usually around 120 pages long; Sorkin’s first draft for this movie was 385 pages in length!
BACK TO THE FUTURE III (1990)
The original Back to the Future movie filmed in 1985 was a monumental success for all involved; the second in the series was churned out four years later and was considerably darker and, subsequently, not quite in the same league. Then, just one year later, Back to the Future III came along and the old magic of the original was reborn. In fact, many argue that it was even better than number one. Michael J Fox is once again Marty McFly and still stranded in 1955, but about to learn of the death of his friend Doc Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd), way back in 1885 in the Old West. He must travel back in time in the DeLorean to save him, the problem being, however, that there is no fuel readily available for the vehicle at the time that might enable them to escape the Old West before Emmett is murdered.
The movie contains numerous ‘in-jokes’, one of the earliest being when Marty and Doc are at the drive-in in 1955, preparing the DeLorean for the journey back to 1885, and Marty mentions the name of Clint Eastwood. Doc replies, ‘Clint who?’ Movie posters on the drive-in wall depict Revenge of the Creature and Tarantula, two 1955 B- features, containing some of the first film appearances of a young, then unknown Eastwood. Marty, who has recently arrived from 1985, briefly points to the poster as he says to Doc, ‘That’s right, you haven’t heard of him yet.’ When Eastwood was asked for permission about his name being used by Marty in the movie, he readily consented, said to be tickled by the homage.
Seated: L to R: Dub Taylor, Harry Carey Jr, and Pat Buttram
Actor and former President of the United States Ronald Reagan was originally approached to play the part of Mayor Hubert. Evidently, the former president had declared his fondness for the first film in the trilogy. Unfortunately, he reluctantly turned down the role, and it went to Hugh Gillin instead. Had Reagan accepted it would have marked his first appearance in a movie in almost thirty years! Movie buffs no doubt noticed the presence of three other old-timers in the saloon, Dub Taylor, Pat Buttram and Harry Carey Jr., character actors who had played sidekicks, town drunks and generally colourful townsfolk in hundreds of westerns and television shows.
Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton
The character of Clara Clayton (portrayed by Mary Steenburgen) has a historical precedence. Clara Clemens was Mark Twain’s real life daughter went on a sleigh ride with her future husband, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, when the horse took fright at a wind-swept newspaper and bolted after Ossip lost control of it. Happily, the sleigh overturned at the top of a hill near a fifty-foot drop, throwing Clara out. Ossip leapt to the ground and stopped the horse from plunging over the bank before it could drag Clara (her dress was caught in a runner) to her death.
Eastwood fans of his western titled Pale Rider (1985) might care to watch the movie again. If they do, they might notice the same clock used for the Hill Valley Clock Tower in Back to the Future III being unloaded from the train. The location of the 1885 Hill Valley was the same set used for Eastwood’s Pale Rider. Evidently, someone thought it might be fun to have the two movies connected in this way. The rock group ZZ Top cameos as the town band in Back to the Future III during the big dance scene. If you watch closely, they even do their trademark guitar spin, right after Marshall Strickland says, ‘Let’s have some fun!’ The group’s manager tried to have their famous car replace the DeLorean, but to no avail. When filming the scene where Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen attempts to lynch Marty, Michael J Fox was accidentally hanged and was unconscious for a short time.