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Ranking Your Cinematic Nixons

On this day way back in 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed the first article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon. It was the culmination of the formal impeachment hearings against the President which began in May of that year, prompted by the break-in of the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel two summers earlier and the subsequent cover-up (and revelations that the Watergate break-in was part of a pattern of illegal activities and “dirty tricks”). Two more articles of impeachment were approved on July 29 and July 30; Nixon announced his resignation on August 8.

In the years since, this most dramatic of presidencies has prompted (unsurprisingly) a wealth of theatrical and television movies dramatizing the Nixon White House. The trouble, of course, is playing Nixon — or at least playing him credibly. The former president’s verbal and physical tics and eccentricities were parodied so endlessly (and mercilessly) by comedians and impressionists of the era that it’s all but impossible for any actor worth his salt to personify the man without making him into a caricature. But several fine actors have given it a shot; after the jump, we’ll take a look at their performances and rank them from worst to best.

Bob Gunton, Elvis Meets Nixon

Allan Arkush’s fanciful 1997 made-for-TV comedy is based on the real, and strange, 1970 meeting between the President and the King, who fancied himself a part-time lawman (he never left home without his collection of deputy badges from across the country) and wanted to offer himself up to his country as an undercover agent in the war on drugs — though he was on enough prescription meds to kill a small animal. The President is played by Bob Gunton, a reliable and capable character actor (he was the villainous warden in The Shawshank Redemption), and given the picture’s light tone, his decision basically just do a comic impersonation of Nixon might’ve worked — if his Nixon impression was any good. But it’s not; it’s like your unfunny uncle shaking his jowls and intoning “I’m not a crook” over and over at Thanksgiving dinner.

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