Tuesday, January 8, 2013


MEN OF CRISIS: THE HARVEY WALLINGER STORY.   The film was made in 1971 for PBS.  Mockumentary style (likely inspired by the Paulsen for President made in 1968), the show satirizes the Nixon Administration with Allen appearing as a Henry Kissinger-style advisor.

PBS officials feared losing government support and pulled the plug on the show prior to airing.   The Paley Center for Media (a great place for TV fans; think Library of Congress for television).

The show opens with a news-style title sequence.   “The best minds of the Republican party meet in Miami Beach.”   Shot of Republicans in a room sleeping in chairs, sacked out on a couch.

“After much consideration they choose a man of force and magnitude.  That man refuses the nomination and they settle for Richard Nixon.”

Newsreel clips (gaffes so common now with youtube to get constant play) make up a good percentage of the show.

Mixed into the clips are fake interviews and clips.   Wallinger (Allen) first appears being sworn in, .”….will faithfully “Can you repeat the question?   I didn’t hear that.  Can you say that again?”

Shot of Wallinger in action on the phone: “I want you to get an injunction against the Times.  Yes, it’s a New York Jewish communist left wing homosexual newspaper.  And that’s just the sports section.”

This is vintage Woody Allen in his prime and equal to the quality of his funniest films.

After a clip of Nixon it’s back to Wallinger:  “What Mr. Nixon means is that it’s important to win the war and also win the peace or at the very least lose the war and lose the peace or  win at least part of the peace or win two pieces perhaps.  Or lose a few pieces but win a piece of the war.  The other alternative is to win a piece of the war but lose a piece of Mr. Nixon.”

Interview with Wallinger.   “We decided to bomb Laos because a very strategic reason: We were not happy with the way it was spelled.”

Shots of Agnew with pompous talk over voice setting up more of Wallinger.  “Mr. Agnew has been especially upset with television since they dropped Gilligan’s Island.”

Louise Lasser appears as an ex-girlfriend of Wallinger.   “We used to double date a lot with the Nixons.  Pat and Dick.   He would dance with Dick.  I thought that was very sweet.”  “I really wanted to get married.   But he didn’t.   He used his influence in Washington to get me drafted.”

Pompous voice over from Reed Hadley: “Born to parents of German-Jewish extraction, Harvey Wallinger is named for Rabbi Harvey Weinstien who will later be wanted by police for passing counterfeit matza.   His father, J. Herbert Wallinger a grocer, dies in childbirth.   His mother the former Anna Cheswick is a newspaper woman who has an affair with Mussolini until she discovers he is Italian.”

Difficult not to transcribe the entire show as there are many classic jokes.   (Btw, the posting here is under ‘fair use’ and no claim to copyright is intended, implied, wanted, and please don't sue me, Mr. Allen.)

Wallinger (shot in black and white) leads a House Unamerican Activities-style questioning.   “Then you’re not familiar with an organization called the Boy Scouts of America.”  “No sir, I was not.”  “Did you attend meetings?”  “From time to time.”   “Did you attend ten, five, a hundred?   Why can’t you remember?”  “Do you recall any other people that attended these Boy Scout meetings?“  “I wasn’t a regular member.  I was 8 years old.  You had to be 10 years old to become a member of the Boy Scouts.”   “To the best of your knowledge, did you ever save anyone from drowning?   Did you ever drown yourself?   At no time?   Well I have information here that you drown?  You don’t remember being submerged under water for an inordinate matter of time?  Ah, I see.”  

This teams Wallinger up with Richard Nixon.   “Their political views coincide.  They both love Richard Nixon.”

1956.  Wallinger gets married to Diane Keaton (who performs her role cross-eyed).   Shot of the two at the wedding with Nixon droning on.    Keaton present day, “He was romantic.  He couldn’t stop from crossing his legs.  He always tries to cross his legs even when we are making love so we’ve had problems in that area.”

In 1960 on Kennedy, “George Washington was Catholic.  Ask J. Edgar Hoover.   He said he was protestant to get votes.   He was a closet Catholic.   Abraham Lincoln was a Jew.  He went to Hebrew school.  His real name was Abe Tropeman.’

“I could not convince him to take a shave for those debates.   I said, ‘Dick your’e going to be on television take a shave.’  ‘Well, it’s $1.50 for a shave plus a tip.’  … I was against those debates to begin with because in a debate you have to deal with issues.  I kept him from making that same mistake in 1968.”

The “You won’t have Nixon to kick around” clip.   Wallinger goes back to the law firm and gets divorced from Keaton for cheating on her with a Democrat.   Wallinger: “Sex is a very capricious thing.  Sometimes I feel like making love to a Democrat.  Sometimes I feel like making love to a Republican.  Generally I try to wait to see what the Russians do first.”

1968.   Nixon is running again.   Wallinger gives advice to makeup man preparing Nixon.   “Is there any possibility of doing black face?”  “The eyebrows are negative.  They make a statement.  They say ‘don’t vote for me.’”  “Maybe if we covered the entire face over with a flag.”  Makeup man: “For what country.”

Clip of Nixon campaign speech and taking power.   Wallinger, “Preventive detention.  I think it’s important to put the criminal in jail before he commits the crime.  That’s the feeling of the administration.

The style of the film will remind fans of ZELIG, produced a decade later.   The early Wallinger interviews are the highlight of the film.   It does lose a bit of steam at times with political clips of figures few of us now remember.   For the era was quite innovative.   This was decades before DAILY SHOW and political satire on television was a rarity.

Easy to see why the Nixon Administration didn’t want the show aired as it was critical of them but what Woody Allen fans were voting for Nixon in the first place?  
Hopefully one day the film will be added as a special feature to one of the early feature films.  

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