April 9 marks the 34th anniversary of the release of All the President’s Men, the movie based on Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s 1974 book of the same name, and that seems like a good enough reason to hype the book a little.
Woodward and Bernstein were, of course, the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, earning the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize and, not incidentally, causing the humiliation and downfall of an American president. (Richard Nixon, but surely you knew that already.)
You’ve probably seen the movie, but if you haven’t, here’s the trailer:
The movie is considered a classic, and rightfully so, but here’s the thing: William Goldman’s screenplay, which won an Academy Award, cuts out the second half of the book. The movie stops at the point where Woodward and Bernstein make a big mistake, screw up an important story.
If you read the book, and you really ought to, you’ll see there’s a whole buncha stuff the movie never talks about — compelling stuff, astonishing stuff, thrilling stuff. If there’s a better illustration of the power of the print media not only to chronicle history, but to make history, I haven’t seen it. And if you haven’t read this thrilling and suspenseful book, you’ve been missing out on one of the great ones.
If you want to read Goldman’s screenplay, it’s included in Five Screenplays (1997). And then, if you’re wondering why he left a huge chunk of the book out of his screenplay, read Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), Goldman’s classic book about making movies. It’s the best book about Hollywood I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of them), and if you’re at all interested in the path a book takes as it makes its way to the screen, it’s a must-read. There’s also a sequel, 2000’s Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade, which is just as entertaining.
Woodward and Bernstein wrote a follow-up to All the President’s Men called The Final Days (1976). It was made into a very good TV movie in 1989, with Lane Smith giving an excellent performance as Nixon. Here’s a clip:
Now go read the books.