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Twentieth Century Fox

If, indeed, the second half of the 20th century was, in our country, “the age of Nixon,” as Robert Dole declared in his eulogy for the man at Yorba Linda in 1994, then Mark Feeney has undertaken to demonstrate just how that age fits into the larger category of the 20th century itself as “the age of Film,” and to show as well not only what that meant for Richard Nixon but what it has meant for the rest of us.

Rehearsing Nixon’s life as an engagement with film may seem a superficial approach; yet, as Mark Feeney has done the job, the exposition is both ingenious and convincing.  Born in 1913 only a few miles from Hollywood, Nixon literally grew up with the industry—but on the wrong side of it.  Not only was he to marry a Hollywood extra whom he liked to take to the movies, but he was himself, as a young man, a talented actor as well as an orator and a debater.  Yet Nixon was never comfortable with Hollywood, nor was he “at home” in his native state.  Precisely, however, because Nixon was the least comfortable of men, the anonymous dark released something in him as he stared at the silver screen.  He was never known to quit a movie once it started, no matter how bad it was.  The quality of the film was, to him, beside the point when it came to moviegoing—a not-so-strange phenomenon in a film-besotted nation characterized by a culture of celebrity.

Yes,...

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