“Broadcast News” Smooth Operators: Harold Hill + Don Vito Obama

by Steve Finefrock – [scriptwriter]
Aaron Altman, frustrated news team wannabee on “Broadcast News” labels his competitor for female affection, as the Devil. How can you say that, Aaron’s shiksa broadcast babe requires of him. It’s a great line, worthy of today’s examination:

AARON: What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive, and he will be nice, and helpful. And he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. [pause] And he’ll get all the great women.

Aaron’s frustration at handsome news anchor Tom Grunnick’s supremacy at capturing the news cuties is expressed for humor – but the insight is elementally serious indeed, for these elementary, serious times. Aaron’s nemesis is the artistic cousin to Lonesome Rhodes, the guitar-strumming bubba rising to radio then TV stardom, in “A Face in the Crowd.” Lonesome rises from a county jail cell to dominating national politics, manipulating like a musical Machiavelli along the way. His downfall is the lady who opened the first door for his career, who redeems the evil of the critter she’s unleashed when she adjusts the soundboard at the studio, letting the nation hear his hateful, supposedly-private words during a commercial break.

Cinema gives many templates for our potential benighted president, Obama the One – OTO – including John Milton, played by Al Pacino, whose career started in the most evil film ever constructed.

MILTON <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000199/> : Don’t get too cocky my boy. No matter how good you are don’t ever let them see you coming. That’s the gaffe my friend. You gotta keep yourself small. Innocuous. [stops and pauses]
Underestimated from day one. You’d never think I was a master of the universe, now would ya?

Who be Milton? The central character in “The Devil’s Advocate” in which Milton tells his protégé why he, the Devil, has taken the earthly career path as a lawyer: it’s the ultimate back-stage pass in a society ever more centered around laws and their interpretation. A less dangerous and much earlier cousin to these cinematic monsters is Professor Harold Hill, con man and visitor to small town schnooks, who get paranoid when a new pool hall opens, to musical energy of  “The Music Man”:

Harold Hill <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0696481/> : Mothers of River City, heed that warning before it’s too late! Watch for the telltale signs of corruption! The minute your son leaves the house, does he rebuckle his knickerbockers below the knee? [gasps] Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger? [more gasps] A dime-novel hidden in the corncrib? [more gasping] Is he starting to memorize jokes from ‘Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang’? Are certain words creeping into his conversation? Words like “swell” and “so’s your old man”? If so my friends, ya got trouble!

And it starts with ‘t’ which rhymes with ‘p’ which stands for POOL.  Soon the schnooks are putty in his hands, until the jig is up and the convenient Deus Ex Machina resolves it all, as only the stage and film writers can construct. In real life, this November 4th, such rescue is not available. Voters must realize they are writing their own script for a four-year run on America Way – no movie magic to make it all OK in the end. No sound-booth manipulation of the microphone switches.

Pacino came to fame as Hollywood brought us the greatest evil in film history, portraying the inheritor of Don Vito Corleone’s mobster legacy.  Mario Puzo’s script arose slimily from research in the NY public library, providing exposure to evil great enough by itself as a novel. The magic arts of cinema made it more dangerous than that liberal shibboleth of film evil, “Birth of a Nation” – for “The Godfather” normalized and lionized evil as had only faintly striven in the 30s gangster movies. Whereas Cagney’s mugs were snarling, if charming, Don Vito Corleone was as smooth and quiet as Milton, seemingly normal as Harold Hill, quietly ingratiating as Tom Grunnick.

Whereas Grunnick merely frustrated a Jewish boy seeking a goyim girl, and the good Professor Hill was just scamming some musical instrument sales, Don Vito Corleone wormed his way into our minds, and hearts, and soul, with all the tricks of modern film and ancient story-telling. Before long, “The Godfather” trilogy had ingrained its dialogue into our minds, earning it the top slot in American Film Institute’s polling of film viewers’ favorite lines.

It even served as grist for “You’ve Got Mail” – written after earlier meetings with Rob Reiner and his team, who used “Godfather” quips readily, that “modern tai chi for males” became a further incarnation of this beloved and oft-rented film. Notably, Puzo’s film story was refused by every director first offered the project by Paramount’s stud-puppy cocksman head of production, Robert Evans [ever a Tom Grunnick type himself], including Francis Ford Coppola.

But Coppola relented on a second appeal, this time convinced it wasn’t about evil – his and other directors’ original take – but was in fact a FAMILY SAGA! It’s all about family, loyalty, overcoming obstacles – blah-blah-blah. So thus American audiences were persuaded by the millions to root for Don Vito Corleone, to adore or admire or at least accept [i.e., ‘rationalize’] their actions, their criminality, their violence, their crime empire.

And like the slow, creeping introduction of the Corleones, at no less a  happy place than a rousing, cheerful wedding, we are introduced to Don Vito Obama – all the nasty truth is hidden, to maybe emerge after his potential election. That is, if the media isn’t so invested in their choice that they can actually grow their stones to do their job of afflicting the comfortable, speaking truth to power. Of course, the Godfather’s violence came first to us as against Don Vito – by time his gang was exercising violence by getting revenge, we were rooting for him, his minions, and even cheered as the police captain got it in the throat.

“Leave the gun – take the cannoli” and “Make him a deal he can’t refuse” and seven other favorite lines in AFI’s pantheon shows we were lured, like Coppola, like lambs to a shearing. Obama is akin to Evans’ oily urging, with an army of capos in the media, on staff, among the DNC and in the intelligentsia, publishing and academia. What will be the top seven favorite campaign slogans to make a political AFI list?

Already the thuggishness of Obama The One – OTO – has come to light in a few select quarters, though not nearly the media spotlight as that on the supposed “kill him” comment at Palin’s rally, which NEVER HAPPENED. Even the sedate Michael Barone called out OTO on the evidence that an OTO presidency will be a thugocracy. When you energize meek, mild Barone into nervous concern, it’s time the rest of the media wake up.

But they are filled to their brims with Barack’s Kool-Aid, like Jim Jones’ brigades, but alive, kicking Palin and Mac, and zombies to any story that doesn’t shore up their Godfather. As Corleone had many press on the payroll, assisting Michael’s assassination blueprint, so Don Vito Obama has legions of ink-stained wretches, of print and broadcast alike, working on his payroll of intellectual affinity.

When it’s over, should OTO win, the question nationally might be that of the cinematic template of a newcomer suddenly rising to the U.S. Senate, in “The Candidate” when young, untested, handsome, slick-spoken Bill McKay realizes upon winning, that he’s not ready. The film’s coda, yelled to his departing campaign manager:

“What do we do now?”

A little late to ask that, after the ballots have been counted.

“Broadcast News” has another juicy exchange:

Tom Grunnick <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000458/> : What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?
Aaron Altman <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000983/> : Keep it to yourself.

Tony Blankley noted this week, that should OTO serve four years in the job, it will be the longest-running job he’s ever held!  Perhaps the RNC will be shrewd enough to borrow that observation, for this Don Vito Corleone/Tom Grunnick/Harold Hill/Lonesome Rhodes/Bill McKay/John Milton is too, too dangerous to be put in the Oval Office.

These are but a few cinematic cousins of OTO: slick, persuasive, successful by being careful not to be too quick-moving, present themselves as values-voters’ adherents.  “He will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance.”

One tax-rate hike at a time. One increase of government power, in itty-bitty steps, over talk radio [and Fox News Channel, et al], at a time. Just a bit here and a bit there, always looking so normal, speaking so like he’s one of us. Selling us music and uniforms and instruments, taking the cash from our pockets, and then when the goods don’t show up, or are found to be shoddy, the charm will be raised one order of magnitude. The media will chime in, the race card will be played, and Don Vito Obama will be seen as benevolent, for after all, he’s GIVEN US SO MUCH.

But then, I pester you too much – OTO may yet lose. Then all this matters for naught. Not that a Mac presidency will be off-limits to assessment. But first, there has to BE a Mac presidency. Which will symbolize the most satisfying occasion of dodging a bullet in almost a century. All to the music of that long-ago pop classic, “Smooth Operator”: some talented musicologist might blend its DNA with “Hey, Big Spender” and you will have Don Vito Obama’s theme song, even if he loses the presidency.

For, like so many cinematic monsters, HE’LL BE BACK.

So will Hillary – now there’s a scary capo de capo. The two of them, Clemenza and Tesio in the Senate, defeated and dazzled with disbelief – ya think Hurricane Katrina was a bitchin’ wind of destruction? In a Senate nearly immune to GOP filibusters! Talk about well-hidden long, red, pointy tails…. Behind a curtain of the Senate cloak room. ‘Pay no attention to those scoundrels behind that curtain….’

A Mac Presidency will have to deal with that pair of hidden tails. Again, first, we have to achieve our desired result. So spread the word – this is definitely the MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN OUR LIFETIME.

And that ain’t no stinkin’ movie plot….. ExileStreet

copyright 2008 Steve Finefrock

Finefrock is founder of Hollywood Forum, a speaker-bureau and panel-discussion vehicle to “Bring the Potomac to the Palisades” on issues that overlap politics and culture with the Hollywood film-TV influence on such national concerns. His scripts have addressed politics [including a TV series pilot/bible package about state political combat, called “A State of the Union”], hazardous materials [from twelve years in emergency management, including six years managing FEMA’s Superfund curriculum for hazmat], terrorism, equestrian reincarnation, serial murderer killing journalists in the nation’s capitol, and fantasy about time-wasters. Finefrock is proprietor of PhoneBooth: The Smallest Space in Hollywood…

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