Friday, April 16, 2010

The Kidnapping of the President - a toupological analysis.

The Kidnapping of the President is a 1980 movie starring Bill Shatner as a Secret Service agent and maestro supporting actor of the 1970s political thriller Hal Holbrook as the President of the United States.

The plot surrounds a Latin American Marxist revolutionary bad guy who likes to do all sorts of bad things.

The US president is about to make a trip to Toronto, Canada to bolster his foreign policy credentials prior to a re-election campaign.

But before leaving, he fires his vice-president.

The bad guy manages to sneak past the security cordon (in a bank van) before handcuffing himself to the US president, revealing that he has dynamite strapped to his body.

There's an accomplice in the crowd that will push the button if any harm comes to him.

It takes a very long time for the Secret Service to figure out who the accomplice is.

He then puts the president inside the carefully rigged, and almost impenetrable van in the middle of the square...

...and heads off to negotiate for some diamonds.

Bill Shatner's character, the head of the (ridiculously incompetent) Secret Service detail, has to figure out how to free the president.

What to say about a movie like this? We actually expected (hoped) that this flick was going to be a gem of sorts; a potential addition to the fabulous political thrillers of the 1970s like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View and All The President's Men. Or maybe just very entertaining hokum. But, we were wrong...

Our take: this film stinks. It's awful. In every possible way, this film really is not good at all.

If you want kidnappings, hostages, politics and all that sort of thing, we recommend the original The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) or a little-known Burt Lancaster gem called Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977) - but for heaven's sake, not this. Where to begin?

The direction is non-existent, with an astonishing array of poor choices on display; the actors are noticeably lost. The supporting cast is dreadful; the dialogue awful; the sets crummy.The film is low-budget - fair enough, but this movie manages to come across as feeling cheap and amateurish. The lighting is terrible. The camerawork is shaky, the constant choice of wide-angle lenses, is odd and distracting. The music (piano music when moving stuff happens) is beyond terrible.

One of the film's rare cool moments: Bill Shatner slides along wet concrete.

At almost two hours, the film feels far, far too long. And guess what? The kidnapping of the president (you know it's gonna happen 'cos of the title) doesn't actually occur until almost an hour into the movie! What happens before that, you may ask? Some weird pointless scenes in a rainforest and all manner of tedious, time-wasting and highly implausible nonsense. There is almost no believable characterization; what little there is comes across as shallow, contrived and clichéd.

Here's an extended clip of the kidnapping sequence, possibly the best part of the movie, during which at the least the film acquires some kind of pulse:

Interestingly, The Kidnapping of the President seems to predate the two-dimensional political-action dramas of the 1980s by a good few years. Whereas 1970s political thrillers had nuance and introspection, the 1980s had South American bad guys called Stavros or Mendoza (a reader corrects us: Stavros is a Greek name) pushing drugs and just ruining everything - and all that was needed was a muscle man along the lines of a Chuck Norris to shoot the hell out of them: "Everything would be alright if it wasn't for scum like you!". That shift underlies a change in attitudes in the US during the "greed is good" decade, amidst the backdrop of the ongoing Cold War. Decent movies were suddenly, for the most part, confined to comedies, horrors, sci-fi - anything but dramas. One of the curious mysteries of 1980s American movies, and one that The Kidnapping of the President attests to with its clownish, two-dimensional Latin American villain...

Oh, and we haven't even gotten to the absurdity of the plot. We could rant about that for a good few paragraphs. Improbable, absurd, idiotic, never in a million years. We could, but whoever wrote this garbage clearly couldn't be bothered to waste their time dwelling on that, so we won't either!

Let's get to the toup.

Again, typical for this period, Bill Shatner is wearing his stage one "T.J. Curly" weave here - the kind that he wore in the first two Star Trek movies.

There's only one real moment of toupological interest in the movie - during one sequence, the toup (or real hair?) is lifted up over the collar of Bill Shatner's raincoat, while ruffling in the wind (you can see the sequence in the extended clip above):

The Kidnapping of the President is available on non-remastered 4:3 poor-print-quality second-hand DVD. We recommend that you don't waste your money.


  1. Another helmet like hair..

  2. You think this movie's bad, try watching Stone Cold Dead, by the same director, George Mendeluk.
    The thing about KoTP was at 48 or 49, Shat's hair on the sides was starting to go gray, but he hadn't yet begun dyeing it, so the color mismatch was evident in some scenes.

  3. I don't know why the Shat chose to wear such extremely dark colour toupees.... They really made him look older.

    Plus the line between his natural hair and toup is so obvious in this Stage 1 curly style. It's distracting in TMP.

    @RM - I think he was already dying his hair - i don't think his natural hair is that dark - it's more reddish. Maybe he was missing spots or something.

  4. It struck me that 17 years after the JFK assassination they would choose in the movie to put a president in a open convertible waving to people while surrounded by tall buildings. Shat also seems to play a somewhat unsure character, the very opposite of Kirk. The toupee is a still better than the T.J style, slightly less full on top. With the "T.J" even the most casual toupologist would know its a piece, but with this style, there might be a slight pause before making the judgment. Just my toupologial observation

  5. Stavros is a Greek name, not South American, but your toupological analysis remains spot on however. Please keep up the good work.

  6. @Most Jerk,

    Yeah, I would agree with the toup statement. If that toup is combed slightly to one side, it looks very close to the TMP look (or as I call it, "T.J. Early".

  7. I'm liking this toup. It is a less extreme version of the TJ, and I think it looks good on Bill - although, I'm afraid you can see the "join". But, maybe Bill likes it that way. I love Hal Holbrook,also.

  8. I was actually IN this movie-you can see me at 236 and 315 in the clip above. Shatner didn't give me the time of day but Hal was a gentleman all the way

  9. I liked your performance there. Any chance you could appear in a Priceline commercial soon?

  10. Sure, just don't have Nimoy fire me...

  11. You were in it Stompy? what was the mumblings around set about the Toupe? You must have heard the director give it directions? was it referred to like a separate actor?