Most of the time, Washington Post Executive Editor Benjamin C. Bradlee is a lean, tough, profane newsman. He directed his paper's contribution to exposing Watergate, the great political scandal, the constitutional crisis that brought down Richard Nixon. But just now Ben Bradlee is starstruck. He has seen All the President's Men, a new $8.5 million film about Watergate, the Post and Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two young reporters whom Bradlee had guided and frequently defended.
"It took me a long time in the movie before I could even hear what anyone was saying," he said breathlessly after seeing a prerelease screening. "The set was just stunning." The main set is the vast, gleaming city room just outside Bradlee's sleek, glass-walled office. Warner Bros, spent $450,000 to recreate it, right down to the wastebaskets, on their Burbank, Calif., lot; then they had real Washington Post trash shipped west to fill those baskets. The stars were pretty stunning too. Bradlee's young charges were transformed into gorgeous Robert Redford and sexy Dustin Hoffman. Jason Robards, playing Bradlee, just about ran away with the movie. Robards played him larger-than-life, carrying the repute of his paper and the fate of the nation on his well-tailored shoulders with almost too much in the way of casual bravado; but then Bradlee plays himself that way sometimes. "I did just great!" cried Bradlee afterward. "I don't know how to say it."
Bradlee's elation is understandable, and not just because very few people get to see glorifications of themselves by one of America's finest actors. All the President's Men had every prospect of failing big. Since work began on it three years ago, it has been, as its screenwriter of record, William Goldman, says, "the biggest gossip picture since The Godfather." There was hazard, if not a touch of hubris, in turning a national trauma into a mere movie—and so quickly too. The film would be released before the nation's emotions had dried into something like a sober historical perspective. Moreover, the driving force behind the project was not an intellectually favored film maker of international repute—a Bertolucci or a Costa-Gavras. Instead it was Redford, a performer whose impeccable box office credentials are based largely on the fact that he is so damnably adorable.
Skeptics pointed out the conventional wisdom: no American political film has made money since Mr. Smith Goes to Washington almost four decades ago. There must have been some temptation to use that appealing film as a model, turning Woodward and Bernstein into updated Jimmy Stewarts—naive, idealistic, full of puff about democratic ideals.