Network / All the President’s Men

Both winners of multiple Academy Awards (but not Best Picture) for 1976, they now make their Blu-ray debut in packages more special than most.

The Watergate scandal had such a cultural impact that when any new scandal arises, we immediately grant it with the “-gate” suffix. While that’s a testament to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s ace reporting of the misdeeds of President Richard Nixon and his aides, it also waters down the sheer importance and influence of the Washington Post journalists, and all the legwork they had to do to get there.

Alan J. Pakula’s “All the President’s Men” breaks that process down into a picture that only tells the truth, but does so accessibly, and still succeeds as a Hollywood suspense thriller. Of course, it helps when the real Woodward and Bernstein (portrayed here by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) were helped by a mysterious, shadowy figure code-named Deep Throat.

“President’s” does the impossible: making newspaper journalism seem like an exciting profession. And I suppose when you’re pursuing what is literally one of history’s biggest stories, it very well could be. Although you know Woodward and Bernstein will emerge alive, the scenes in which they’re menaced and/or threatened still retain the power to provoke tension. Pakula’s final shot of the film still gives me goose bumps — and it’s all rendered via teletype machine, no less.

As great as that political drama is, “Network” is the finer picture, and an awfully prescient one at that. As director Sidney Lumet notes in the special features, all but one aspect of its plot has come true in the 35 years since.

The plot concerns how a television network deals with the psychotic breakdown of one of its aging anchors, Howard Beale (Peter Finch, who won a well-deserved Oscar for the role, albeit posthumously), who pledges to kill himself live on TV. Instead of getting Beale help, executives smell ratings, and give him his own show on which to rant and rave. This works, setting off a new wave of reality programming (at an era in which there was none) shepherded by the conniving Faye Dunaway, each show more outrageous than the next.

Paddy Chayefsky’s script contains some powerhouse dialogue, on which the actors lovingly chew, savoring every written word. Although a satire, “Network” plays serious, which is why it continues to touch a nerve and, yes, even disturb.

But both Blu-ray special editions contain should do nothing but please, built with an eye toward emphasizing the films’ importance; “President’s” even comes with a built-in book. Segments from ye olde Dinah Shore talk show get dug up for each film, as do exhaustive, multipart documentaries, but the crème de la crème is a Turner Classic Movies special in which Robert Osborne sits down with Lumet for an hourlong career retrospective. —Rod Lott

Rod Lott

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