The Kidnapping of the President
He has a venially corrupt vice-president, and that is enough to handcuff him to a dynamite-toting terrorist with a Bank’s (sc. Brink’s) armored truck and a bomb to hold him on a trip to Toronto for talks about the Arab fuel crunch to free Canada and the U.S. and Mexico from dependence on foreign oil, “wind ships” are his idea, and long underwear.
A very brilliant political satire, surrealistically played with a perfect deadpan by the finest actors as a strict policier suspense action film, never an error.
The cinematography by Mike Molloy is very fine, he had just come from The Shout for Skolimowski and The Human Factor for Preminger.
Time Out Film Guide’s commentary is the very last word in idiocy.
“Spirited political thriller”, says Halliwell’s Film Guide, which flagged nevertheless while watching.
It opens with a door-to-door salesman’s travails, then a wealthy housewife has her maid prepare the bed one afternoon. The salesman is unable to clinch the deal, her husband comes home early from the Governor’s Office, his politic wife cries out, the salesman goes to John Dillinger Memorial Penitentiary, in a joking version of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.
Pat McCormick plays the warden. It’s a relaxed institution, a prison band imitates a scene from Jailhouse Rock, singing “All Fucked Up”. There’s entertainment in the evening with girls and a crap table. New fish are assessed by Mike Mazurki in prison denim, John Vernon in gangland pinstripes, and Nicholas Worth in a peroxided mohawk, the camera reveals these three grotesques are eyeing the aquarium. Vernon, a movie buff, is on the best of terms with Colleen Camp, the warden’s secretary. After a failed escape attempt by Papillon, whose name is stenciled on the back of his shirt, McCormick is sacked.
The new warden, Richard Mulligan, is outfitted like Patton and wears a William S. Hart Stetson or alternatively a Foreign Legion cap. As he gets out of his car, a voice in the trunk asks for air. The warden obliges by shooting holes in the trunk, whereon the voice expresses its thanks. The warden’s name is Mongo.
The mohawk and the salesman have held an egg-eating contest out of Cool Hand Luke, and now, after a road-laying scene, Melanie Chartoff as Linda Libel patiently stands receiving last-minute makeup and snorts a line of cocaine from the makeup girl’s mirror, before going live at the road opening. The warden and the Governor and the Governor’s wife drive through a “Come to Arizona” billboard, over a cliff and into the river.
The prison has its own television network with a popular game show called Felony Fraud. The new prison psychiatrist is a smashing blonde the salesman is nuts about. A news report on Abscam gives the prisoners a brainwave.
Judy Landers (“special appearance”) applies for a job, and Mulligan mimes the torments of his plight as she innocently loosens her constricting jacket. After excusing himself to soak his head, and again to take a cold shower in uniform, he spots the video camera installed by the prisoners.
Mongo the warden arranges a boxing match for the salesman with a heavyweight guard, who flexes his pecs alternately while the salesman’s eyebrows mimic them. It’s a terrible mismatch, till the rope-a-doped salesman on his stool has a vision of himself as Muhammad Ali, and he is Muhammad Ali, receiving encouragement from Drew Bundini Brown.
The warden gets a hot date with his secretary, and the prisoners send it out live via satellite to the nation, winding up with Mongo in sheep’s clothing and Little Bo-peep in stiletto-heeled boots. This is such a big hit, it’s immediately picked up as The Mongo Comedy Hour.
McCormick is the warden once again, the psychiatrist and the salesman couch elsewhere, all’s well by the ending.