Deeply Felt—or Holbrook?

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
June 7 2005 1:14 PM

Deeply Felt—or Holbrook?

The nebulous center of All the President's Men.

In the comment sections of many blogs over the past few years of intense Deep Throat speculation, there was always some wise guy writing that the legendary source's identity was no secret. It was Hal Holbrook, of course. So, now that the real Throat has surfaced, how does he measure up to the actor who immortalized him in Alan Pakula's film All The President's Men?

Not very well, even correcting for Mark Felt's age. And how could he, when Holbrook's Throat is tantalizingly unfilled-in? Apart from the actor's celebrated one-man Mark Twain show, he's known largely for playing faceless company men, both earnest and duplicitous. In Pakula's film, he is shadowed, furtive, anxious, impatient, condescending. But he's still something of a Rorschach blot. We can project anything we like onto him and supply our own motives for his disclosures. He could be FBI, he could be Justice, he could be executive branch, he could be Pat Nixon, he could be Mister Rogers. About all he couldn't be are the two bubbleheaded teenage girls from the delightful Watergate parody, Dick—which was (duh) the joke.

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Deep Throat gets relatively little screen time in All the President's Men, but the movie is unimaginable without him. In a film in which the key villains don't appear and the actual crimes remain nebulous, it's the free-floating paranoia that keeps our hearts racing. Twenty-nine years after seeing the movie, my most vivid memories are of the Throat scenes in that underground parking garage—and, just as important, of the scary high angles on Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) as he comes and goes from these meetings. Pakula was always great at pervasive malignancy—in Klute, The Parallax View, and All the President's Men. The less we actually saw in his films, the better.

As a Watergate junkie from way back, I'm a little disappointed that the Throat—so much more tantalizing as a silhouette, a symbol, and Hal Holbrook—is now an old guy rolling down his window to quaver that it's time his family made some money. He's still one of my great heroes, though, whatever his motives. And I love that in spite of Nixon's suspicions, the SOB went to his grave unsure if Deep Throat was Felt, Fielding, Kissinger, or the ghost of JFK.
... 11:37 a.m. PT

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. You can read his reviews in "Reel Time" and in "Movies." He can be contacted at slatemovies@slate.com.

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