TV: Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971)

November 16, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Comedy / Mockumentary

Synopsis: Fake short-form documentary of Richard Nixon’s close confidant and strategist, Harvey Wallinger.

Special Features:  n/a




Still commercially unavailable, Woody Allen’s half-hour PBS satire is more precise and pointed than his prior mockumentary Take the Money and Run (1969), which profiled an inept bank robber.

Running a compact 25 mins. Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story is a satire of the Nixon Administration, which was past the halfway point of its first term when the short was scheduled for airing in February of 1972, but as the lore surrounding this ‘lost’ film goes, executives at the Public Broadcasting Network were fearful they might lose a chunk of funding, and the short was pulled, after which it apparently vanished, save for archival copies at the Paley Center for Media, and a shopworn, scratched 16mm print aired (presumably) in Italy with subtitles that’s the source on YouTube (see end link).

Not unlike the titular fake subject in Zelig (1983), Allen and his researcher(s) raided broadcast archives for more casual footage of Nixon, Vice-President Spiro Agnew, FBI overlord J. Edgar Hoover, Pat Nixon, and a few other related contemporary figures to construct a portrait of one Harvey Wallinger, a kind of spin doctor who watched Nixon fail in the John F. Kennedy live debates in 1960, but returned to help his esteemed republican mentor win the top job in 1969.

Wallinger’s a loopy, murky Bannonesque figure, and fake news footage is sometimes interpolated with archival material, sometimes with a Nixon lookalike who’s sparingly used until a final sequence in which Wallinger and a makeup man debate the utter hopelessness of Nixon’s ‘untrustworthy’ mug which might be salvageable with new latex technology.

The first half is hysterical for piling on preposterous statements, blending fake footage with news outtakes of informal casual chatter at podiums, but it slows down once Wallinger becomes the central figure. A neat staging of the HUAC hearings in which Wallinger attempts to dress-down a Samuel Marx for his alleged membership in the Boy Scouts runs too long, but from a technical stance it shows Allen’s firm grasp of creating the type of fake historical news that would be tighter, more strategic and character-based in Zelig a decade later.

The short’s wrap-up is quick – since Nixon was still in office, Wallinger’s backstory has to end mid-job – but the entire production is packaged like a current events series with news pieces, on-camera interviews (Diane Keaton is Wallinger’s cross-eyed wife, Louise Lasser plays a frank lover questioned off-camera by Allen himself, and Conrad Bain is a generic civil servant), and grave narration by Reed Hadley who delivers Allen’s scripted nonsense.

As chapter in Allen’s career, MOC demonstrates a finer sense of pacing and organizing nonsense into a brisk narrative that on a cursory glance sounds convincing, but a little off if one pays closer attention to the rapid flow of dialogue and diverse footage, and it’s an important link between Take and Zelig, so it’s especially bizarre that this decades-old short remains unavailable on home video. It’s cheeky and provocative but not offensive, and is refreshingly contemporary in a Trumpian world in which news has splintered into prepackaged formats with more politically ideological stances. MOC’s primary target is the Republican establishment, but there’s a sense if a worthy / inept Democrat equivalent were in office, the barbs would be just as absurd.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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