05/05/2008 07:20 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

If Hillary Were in the Movies, What Parts Could She Play?

I just finished a fascinating book called Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris which seeks to pinpoint the moment of Hollywood's initial transition to a new generation and a fresh form and model of film-making. That defining moment, Harris claims, can be glimpsed in the 1967 Academy Awards, and its five Best Picture nominations, which included a mix of the old and new personalities and styles.

The most interesting part of the book for me was Harris's description of Sidney Poitier's position at that time. He was the only actor to appear in two of that year's Best Picture nominees, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? and the superior In The Heat Of The Night. (Other nominees were The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, and believe it or not, Dr. Doolittle.)

Poitier was then the only black American movie star acceptable to a broad audience, and as such he was a man still trapped into certain types of roles by the color of his skin. He could not show any sexual inclination towards white women, and most every role he took somehow had to play the race hand.

And in the face of peak success -- he was close to becoming the top box office attraction in Hollywood, many of his more radical fellow Afro-Americans dubbed Sidney "whiter than white," because his natural circumspection made him not yell loudly enough about civil rights (though he was indeed involved, largely through his close friend, Harry Belafonte).

I see Barack Obama's recent woes in somewhat the same light. Let's face it -- by character and temperament, he is more a Poitier or Jamie Foxx than say, a Denzel or Ice Cube. This is not fabricated; it's simply who he is. Does this make him more electable? Of course it does. All the media overplay of his past association with the Reverend Wright proves it.

How can we elect a man who once was an acolyte to such a divisive racial figure, who still speaks out in such an inflammatory way about injustice to blacks? We're so over that, aren't we?

It seems all those white middle-class voters are scratching their heads now, wondering silently whether on Inauguration Day, their Sidney Poitier will suddenly turn into Eldridge Cleaver or Huey Newton.

And Hillary Clinton is the beneficiary of this, saying Obama should have spoken out sooner against his former pastor. Shame on you, Barack, for being torn about disowning yourself from a man who in earlier days had more positive spiritual sustenance to offer, before his fifteen minutes of fame and a perceived snub by you sent the preacher straight off his rocker. By contrast, there is no doubt that Hillary would disown anyone or anything that stood in her way -- and fast, her husband included. You have to admire her sheer ruthlessness and drive, I suppose.

So if Barack went into the movies someday, we know some of the parts he'd play. But to paraphrase Poitier, he'd want to play a man, not a black man, something Poitier was rarely permitted to do. Now, some forty years after those transitional Academy Awards, Barack might just be allowed to do it.

But what parts would a Hollywood bound Hillary get? I've gone through my titles from and now offer a few suggestions on ideal remake vehicles for the former First Lady. All these films, mind you, stand sturdily on their own.

All About Eve (1950)- Joseph L. Mankiewicz's peak as director concerns aging stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis), wise in the ways of fame and the theatre, who's nevertheless blindsided by an adoring fan named Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Eve enters Margo's orbit as awed acolyte, then slowly usurps everything Margo has in one subtle, masterful act of manipulation. This perennial classic is a sharp, caustic take on the theatre world, and the wide assortment of parasites, barracudas, and hangers-on that populate it. Eve is the wolf in sheep's clothing, a comer with just enough talent and cunning to penetrate Margo's inner circle and catch her when she's vulnerable and feeling her age. Davis gives the best performance of her long career, and young Baxter is outstanding. (Note: I don't really need to tell you who Hillary would play, do I? But where's Eve when we really, really need her? Nancy Pelosi, are you out there?)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)- Former Korean War POW Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), now with Army intelligence, is haunted by nightmares in which fellow soldier Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is ordered by their North Korean captors to shoot his own men. Seeking out his old platoon members, who are haunted by similar visions, Marco slowly pieces together that Shaw has become the unwitting tool of a deadly communist plot. This story of a soldier brainwashed by Reds to kill the President is twisty and unnerving, and builds to a shattering crescendo. All the players are first-rate, in particular Angela Lansbury as Raymond's mother from hell. Harvey is ideally cast as Shaw, but Sinatra's portrayal of Marco reflects the dramatic high point of his film career. This nail-biting political thriller is very much of its time, but endures as a highly intelligent, inventively crafted thriller nonetheless. (Note: OK- we've already had an inferior re-make of this, but I think the Lansbury role was made for Hillary, who has just the cold steel and cunning to pull it off. So move over, Meryl Streep, your nails just weren't sharp enough for the part.)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)- College history professor George (Richard Burton) and his insufferable wife, Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), have invited over a new young faculty couple for a session of social torture. As the night wears on, the bitter contretemps between the squabbling older pair gets progressively uglier-especially when the blowsy, gin-soaked Martha mentions the couple's "son." An often agonizing, hilariously warped study of marital dysfunction, "Woolf" was the brainchild of first-time director Mike Nichols (who went on to make The Graduate) and Ernest Lehman, who adapted Edward Albee's scabrous play. Nasty, vicious, and drenched in venomous wit, this is the ultimate Taylor-Burton collaboration, with plenty of ugly, soul-baring accusations to go around. (Note: This title would offer Hillary a vehicle for pure realism, where we'd get to see all the icy anger lurking beneath that glazed-on smile. Especially if husband Bill played George-against type, audiences of all classes would surely flock to the theaters.)

Network (1976)- Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is a type A network television executive who rides the wave of an unfolding ratings sensation broadcasting deranged televangelist Howard Beale (Peter Finch, in his final performance). Beale hits a chord with disillusioned Americans, urging them to chant his mantra: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." But the Beale phenomenon may not last, as Howard's ever more bizarre rantings signal an emotional breakdown in the making. Sidney Lumet's devastating, disturbing satire of the modern broadcast age (written by Paddy Chayefsky) still has a lot to say over thirty years after its release. Beyond portraying a business that bypasses quality in single-minded pursuit of the dollar, television serves as metaphor for a society mired in sensationalism and greed. Dunaway is commanding in a caffeinated performance as ruthless Diana, with a haggard William Holden unusually affecting as a washed-up veteran of TV's glory days. The late Finch of course is a revelation as the unbalanced Beale, winning a posthumous Oscar for his work. (Note: Dunaway's part is another tailor-made role for Hillary, a man-eating predator in search of the only thing in life that really matters to her: winning. Most everything else takes a back seat in Diana's life, even sex, as Dunaway only takes twenty seconds to complete the act. Let's see if you can beat that record, Hillary.)

Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988)- When pregnant Spanish actress Pepa ( Carmen Maura) finds out that her longtime lover Ivan (Fernando Guillén) is leaving her for good, she tries to track him down. Instead, she discovers his secret life, including wife Lucia (Julieta Serrano). Contemplating suicide, the distraught Pepa mixes up a gazpacho spiked with sleeping pills and puts her flat on the market, but is interrupted by her panicked best friend Candela (Maria Barranco), followed by wave after wave of unexpected visitors. Pedro Almodovar's first international hit, this kinetic, farcical romp mixes up absurd comic situations and bizarre, coincidental encounters between ex-lovers, jealous wives, Shiite terrorists, and sexy apartment seekers. Maura heads up a terrific cast, playing the hysterical Pepa with pathos and manic passion, while Barranco and Serrano (as Ivan's unhinged, gun-toting wife) are brilliantly zany. Watch for future Hollywood star Antonio Banderas in a small but memorable role as Ivan's randy son. No one does modern screwball comedy like Almodovar, or loves these "Women" quite so much. (Note: The Spanish origins of this entry could bolster Hillary's already impressive foreign policy credentials, and the role of desperate wife Lucia finally losing it with her philandering husband somehow seems like a custom-made vehicle for her. Monica could play Pepa, only I hear she can't act.)

Election (1999)- Tracy Enid Flick (Reese Witherspoon), a dutiful but driven high school student who never has a hair out of place, and radiates a calculated cuteness that makes you want to strangle her, runs an aggressive campaign for class president, while Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), in spite of his responsibilities and obligations as a teacher, finds himself compelled to undermine her at every turn. Will Tracy still win this election? Alexander Payne's inspired, satirical battle of wits will engage and amuse like few other contemporary comedies. Strictly, a two actor face-off piece, the talented Witherspoon shows real comic chops as the perfect schoolgirl everyone loves to hate (she's like someone we all knew at some point in our school lives), while Broderick does a nuanced turn as a counselor who plays saboteur, not with obvious glee, but instead a shade of bewilderment, as if he can't quite figure out why he must act on every urge to burst Tracy's bubble, running counter to a mentor's traditional role. (Note: Granted our candidate's a trifle old for the Tracy part, so this version may have to be animated. Even though Hillary grew up in the more militant nineteen sixties and projected an intellectual grunge style that would repel the spotless Tracy, with her bleached blonde hair and electric yellow jackets, Hillary could now be Tracy, just all grown up. And I personally would like to audition for the Broderick role.)

I hope these ideas are useful to Hillary as she ponders the possibility of alternate careers in the future (hey, sixty's the new forty). And I do respect her and wish her well. It's just that after seven and a half years of listening to someone I don't like, she simply isn't the next voice I want to hear from the Oval Office. And I chafe at the prospect of another political "dynasty". Just look where this current one got us. They're almost as bad as re-makes.

Now, coming full circle, can anyone guess what film won Best Picture in 1967? It was In the Heat Of The Night, movie fans...starring, you guessed it, Sidney Poitier.