“From Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman down to the least bit player there is such perfection of acting as one scarcely associates with Hollywood filmmaking. And not only do the performances act and look convincing, they are even splendid likenesses, as far as I can judge…. It is well worth seeing ‘All the President’s Men’ twice; once for everything about it, and once more just for the acting.”
It has since become the gold standard for films on investigative journalism.
DC/Hill Notes: Outside of its singular set for “The Post’s” newsroom, “All the President’s Men” uses DC locations as fully and consistently as any Washington-based movie ever made by a Hollywood studio. Not only are many locations used, but they are used appropriately, and in a few cases, strikingly.
— Scenes take place at the Kennedy Center, in Lafayette Park, at the Hoover FBI Building, in an actual District courtroom, at the exterior of “The Washington Post” building, at the White House’s north gate, at the Justice Department (FBI), and, most appropriately, at the Watergate complex and at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge across the street (where the infamous “plumbers” had their base). The apartment where Woodward lives, and signals Deep Throat with a potted plant, is located at abuilding on the 1700 block of P Street NW.
— One significant location—the ominous parking garage where Woodward meets Deep Throat—did not use a DC site. Those sequences were shot in the garage of the ABC Entertainment Center building in Century City, Los Angeles.
— The filmmakers also provided a neat cameo: the security guard in the film who discovers the Watergate burglars is played by Frank Wills, the actual guard on duty on the night of the break-in. The sequence was recreated in the same Watergate building.
Library of Congress Filming: Perhaps the film’s most imaginative use of locales is the sequence when Woodward and Bernstein visit the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress to gain access to some White House records. The most effective part of the sequence is shot inside the Library’s famed Main Reading Room, where, as the reporter’s rifle through library check-out cards, the camera slowly backs straight up to the very top of the Library’s grand dome, with a view down on the now puny protagonists. According to one source, the production “devoted three weeks to pulling apparatus up 600 stairs to achieve a dramatic upward pull-away shot.”
That dramatic shot almost never happened. According to a contemporary report in a local business journal, the company, after spending two weeks building a platform from which a camera could obtain a bird’s eye view of the Reading Room, hit a snag. Then: Forty-eight hours before the shoot, permission to film was suddenly revoked by an official who was horrified to see the platform hanging from pulleys attached to the Library dome. After hours of desperate telephoning, the producers finally reached…Jack Valenti (then head of the MPAA). Valenti put them in touch with Congressman John Brademas, who sits on the Library committee of the House of Representatives. Thanks to Brademas’ intercession, the scene was shot.
The Library shoot was also the scene of an unfortunate incident that affected future access to the building. Stuart Neumann, long a DC location manager and a production assistant during this filming, recalled the event in an interview. A member of the rigging crew was running cables up in a false ceiling with acoustical tiles when the ceiling broke and the fellow fell right on an office desk of a Library of Congress employee. The Librarian of Congress was not happy, and the building was considered off limits for some years to commercial film crews.
Minor Goofs: Even with a movie so steeped in actual locations, “All the President’s Men” does contain a shooting “goof” here and there. A few examples:
— Bernstein eats out with a contact at an open air restaurant with a striking view of the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. The scene was actually filmed on the top deck of the Kennedy Center to attain that view, yet, while it provides a wonderful Washington vista, there has never been outdoor service at the eateries on that top floor.
— Woodward is shown at one point driving east in front of the White House then is immediately shown in front of the Kennedy Center, which is west of the White House.
— Woodward walks on 17th Street to the corner of the Corcoran Gallery at G Street NW (The Old Executive Office Building is seen in the background) and uses a phantom telephone booth (there has never been one at that corner) to call Deep Throat.
Mike Canning has been the movie reviewer for the “Hill Rag” newspaper on Capitol Hill since 1993 and is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association. He is the author of “Hollywood on the Potomac: How the Movies View Washington, DC,” from which this article is adapted. His reviews and writings on film can also be found online at www.mikesflix.com.
The views expressed in the essay are those of the author and may not reflect those of the Library of Congress.