Thursday, August 09, 2018

Pity the Poor First Husband: Kisses for My President

Contrary to whatever impression the recent Hillary Clinton campaign might have given you, Hollywood hasn't made all that many movies about a female President in the White House. Indeed, apart from the 1964 movie Kisses for My President, it's difficult for me to think of one. And even Kisses for My President leaves more than a bit to be desired on the cinematic front.

For what it was worth, Polly Bergen made a fine impression as Leslie Harrison McCloud, the first woman president of the United States. But sadly the movie wasn't really about her. It was about her husband Thad (played by Fred MacMurray).

Thad used to be a big industrialist before his wife got elected, but now she was in the White House, he was just another First Spouse with little to do save for keeping out of trouble and attending meaningless social events -- a situation which was just fine for previous presidential spouses but not for Thad. Because he was a guy, you know. And according to the dogma of 1964 Hollywood, guy problems were much more important than woman problems.

Eventually he did get into trouble -- first when he was entertaining a conniving Latin American dictator named Raphael Valdez Jr. (played by Eli Wallach) and then again when he was almost seduced by a job offer from an ex-girlfriend named Doris Weaver (played by Arlene Dahl). For that matter, the children had issues too but the movie was not as interested in those issues as it was in the plight of poor Tad.

In any event, the movie was not a complete loss. Despite all the attention focused on Fred MacMurray, Polly Bergen managed to do a good job of convincingly portraying a female president, especially in the scenes in which she stood up to a patronizing U.S. senator (played by Edward Andrews) and Raphael Valdez Jr. Nor did Ms. Bergen have a monopoly on good roles. Wallach managed to play his role in a memorable fashion and it didn't hurt that he had a few good scenes with John Banner, an actor best known for playing Sgt. Schultz on the TV series Hogan's Heroes but seen in this film playing the role of the Soviet Ambassador.

Unfortunately, by turning the fictional story of the first female president into a romantic comedy and focusing primarily on male issues, the movie eventually undermined itself to the point that it's no surprise that it rarely seems to be mentioned in movie buff circles. If I had to pick the worst part of the film, it would be the ending which was the setup for a really bad one-liner by Mr. MacMurray that has not improved with age. Of course, Kisses for My President would not be the last Hollywood film to reflect a dubious attitude towards the Women's Liberation Movement. But it is one of the most obvious ones.

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