Shatner to the rescue as the United States President is kidnapped…
A couple with a cause kidnap the President, as a Vice President hopes to redeem himself if his ambitious wife will let him.
The Kidnapping of the President [Television Spot], Demetrios Patsiaris and photos © Crown International Pictures
The Kidnapping of the President (1980) has William Shatner supported by Hal Holbrook, Van Johnson and Ava Gardner in a political thriller movie. With political films few and far between on this blog, I think it starts and ends with Dave (1993), a Kevin Kline rom-com. This genre is usually one that loses me within minutes leading to mansplaining from Darlin Husband. So on reading the plot for this film, I believed this was one even I could follow.
The previously mentioned acting talents appeared to be in an on screen competition of who could ham their role up the most in this American-Canadian film. The film story was part guilty pleasure, but one that I grew to love until the plot all went all tilt predictable and silly towards the end. The film screenplay was based a book written by Canadian author Charles Templeton and for the most part this film set (and made) in Toronto.
The 3 minute opening track (I kid you not) has a very odd mish-mash of a track. Composed of one long note accompanied by plinky-plonky notes – this comment sounded better in my head – followed some kid playing the recorder (badly). Then this “musical” medley is wrapped up with a military march. The credits showing a montage of black and white footage of Presidents from the US of A on State visits.
The film starts in a jungle somewhere in South America, where an evil Marxist revolutionary watches on as his dog kills someone. This death gaining a nomination for Best On-Screen Response to Death Ever.. but by the victim’s response. Meanwhile, another revolutionary kills his girlfriend because she knows the truth.
Then it’s up North and to the American White House, where the US President Adam Scott (Hal Holbrook) is in a meeting with the FBI. He’s discovered the Vice President, Ethan Richards (Van Johnson) has been paying a large amount of money into another person’s bank account. As you don’t, if your Vice President.
The President therefore is not a happy man telling Richards to hand in his resignation, as it doesn’t look too good. But being the kindly soul that he is, the President gives him a wee bit of leeway, saying he’ll accept it on his return from his diplomatic visit to Toronto (and that’s just about that for that part of the story line). This visit will leave Richards in charge of the country to the glee of Richard’s wife, Beth (Ava Gardner).
Enter Secret Service agent William Shatner as Jerry O’ Connor and his colleague Herb, his senior officer at the CIA. Jerry demands the President step up his security and change his route for this visit. Even the First Lady is fearing for her husband’s safety. But the President isn’t listening to either of them.
Jerry is concerned the revolutionary Assanti (Miguel Fernandes) is out to get the President, but this idea is poo-pooed by the FBI. Jerry’s greatest sceptic, FBI Agent Dietrich says Assanti’s dead, and therefore he’s on the done and dusted list. Jerry stating Shatner-style they never. Found. Assanti’s. Dead body.
Meanwhile, Assanti’s plane has landed in Canada. In Toronto, he teams up with the killed girl’s sister Linda (Cindy Girling). He has her on his side by a: not telling her the truth about her sister’s demise and b: a forced snog which she (stupidly) eventually responds to.
The pair talk with a third accomplice, Harvey (Maury Chaykin) who has rigged up the back of a van with hidden explosives. Once locked in the van, there is no way to escape. This van, they intend to use in their plan to kidnap the President.
This evil trio set off for Toronto in their van with their aim to kidnap the President. On the way, they are nearly arrested. The police asking them questions after they pull over at a garage. Harvey is shot dead in a shoot out with the police. They arrive in downtown Toronto. The van enters the now cordoned off Presidential route, with Linda and Assanti pretending to be security workers delivering money.
Assanti – now pretending to be the Press – handcuffs himself to the President as the President passes him in the crowds. Assanti proudly displaying his dynamite covered inner jacket to the President’s security and the crowd. The President then unwillingly enters the rigged up van, with Jerry and the Security helpless to do anything.
Meanwhile, Vice President Richards is getting advice from his overly ambitious wife on how to handle the situation (and hopefully win/take over the Presidency). After Herb collapses on plane on the way to Toronto, it’s up to Jerry to save the day and negotiate the President’s release.
Assanti leavies the President in the van, and requests to talk with Jerry in a hotel room about his demands. Once there, Assanti asks for 100 million dollars in diamonds and two planes. He tells Jerry, they can’t kill him as Assanti states he must be seen at a window, every half hour to confirm he’s alive to his accomplice.
Otherwise, she will use a remote detonator which will set off a bomb in the van and the President will die at midnight. Jerry must find Linda in the crowds. Inevitably he does and she’s taken in.. and she starts the detonator. A countdown then commences to midnight when the van will explode and kill the President…
I really found this plot an interesting premise as an inventive spin on the kidnapping story. This with the President left alone facing a possible death, rather than see him gagged and bound and with his captors. The film, however, appeared to tell two different stories, with the Vice President’s story done and dusted before the first act had finished.
I felt had the writers been a bit more inventive, they could have tied both his Vice Presidential storyline and the President’s stories together to make this one hell of a conspiracy movie. But sadly they didn’t have the twist in the tale I envisaged, I’d hoped to see the kidnappers in cahoots with Ava Gardner’s Beth.
It was nice seeing how the different characters dealt with the Presidential kidnapping. Holbrook was stuck in the van for quite a bit lot of the film being diplomatic and pining for his wife. He literally started tearing up his scenery, putting his life in danger.
Jerry managed to contact the van-inhabited President via a microphone and a computer, and the pair had a two-way conversation. Then the lovelorn President got to speak to his wife. The loved up pair talking about their love life in Camp David, with this luckily stopped in mid flow before he got too graphic. But in a nice wee touch they appeared to have a romantic musical track accompanying all their scenes.
Shatner, was at his best commanding every scene in his performance with his colleagues and the kidnappers. His part in the plot was believable up to the point where they found a possible way of rescuing the President. He was also unintentionally fun too with a few comic one liners that went over Assanti’s head (luckily) during the negotiation scenes. Shatner appeared to take great glee in their delivery , which he did with a crafty wee smirk.
As Assanti, Fernandes looked every part the villain with his black swishy leather coat – which David Tennant as that demon in Good Omens (2019-) would give his eye-teeth for – and his enigmatic presence. However, I was surprised at Linda falling for this revolutionary. Especially after him handcuffing then kissing her on their first meeting (but mayb she found this a bit of a turn on).
She responded to these advances, even though this was somewhat more creepy than the Parker Stevenson method of seduction in This House Possessed. (1981). This when Stevenson’s character pinned down his then hopeful on-screen love interest to a chair.
The most unintentionally fun response to the President’s predicament came from the Vice President Richards and his wife. With Van Johnson in his scenes with Gardner as his ambitious wife reminiscent of Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. Johnson looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, as his on-screen wife revelled in her role.
Beth was always looking on how events would help her husband for the best. Johnson was also seen in a number of scenes speaking to Jerry on a two way intercom. However, Johnson made Richard seem conflicted with this apparently well meaning vice president feeling caught between his duty to the country and keeping his wife happy.
As for the Best Hammed Up Performance in this movie, it seemed to be a case of ladies first, with the award going to Ava Gardner. This actress was deliciously devious in her role, which even eclipsed her performance in The Cassandra Crossing (1976). All in all, I’d definitely recommend you to watch this film, which I’ve now affectionately retitled Holbrook’s President’s a man with two Van Problems.
Weeper Rating: 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Third Van Johnson Blogathon No 80
This film was entered into For Love Letters to Old Hollywood‘s Third Van Johnson Blogathon. Other films with this cast included Van Johnson in Divorce American Style. Hal Holbrook appeared in The Fog. Ava Gardner appeared in The Cassandra Crossing, Knots Landing and Earthquake. William Shatner in Incubus, Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek The City on the Edge of Forever and Horror at 37,000 Feet. He also starred in episodes of TV Shows reviewed here namely Suspicion, The Twilight Zone, Columbo , One Step Beyond, The Man from UNCLE and Thriller.