Saturday, April 25, 2020

Kisses for My President: A Review


To say there isn't a certain cringe factor when thinking of Kisses for My President is disingenuous. At a time when we've had as of this writing two female Vice Presidential nominees (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin), one Presidential nominee (Hillary Clinton, albeit she became the nominee in part thanks to her time as First Lady) and several serious female candidates waiting in the wings (Elizabeth Warren, Nikki Haley), the idea that a comedy could be built around the "silly" notion of a female President and a "male First Lady" seems downright obscene.

And as a side note, this doesn't take into account the idea that we could have a male President and a male First Lady in the Pete and Chasten Buttigieg mode.  Yet, I digress.

While today Kisses for My President may be seen as "problematic", at heart it means no harm and you can find some laughs and promise in the premise.

Leslie Harrison McCloud has been elected President of the United States, but the hitch is that "Leslie" is a woman (Polly Bergen). This leaves her husband Thad (Fred MacMurray) a bit at a loss as to what to do. He isn't able or perhaps willing to be the househusband to their children, teenager Gloria (Anna Capri) or tween son Peter (Ronnie Dapo). Thad isn't going to do the teas or social events either, or at least isn't comfortable with the idea. With President Leslie too busy for him, he's adrift.

He is finally given something to do: escort Latin American dictator Rodrigo Valdez, Jr. (Eli Wallach) around town. Valdez wants more "aid" but President McCloud won't hear of it, even under pressure from her former rival Senator Walsh (Edward Andrews). As can be expected, Thad's efforts at foreign affairs is disastrous, culminating in a brawl involving the film's version of the Tidal Basin Bombshell.

Kisses For My President - Clip - YouTubeThere are also domestic affairs to think on, in the shape of temptress and President McCloud's frenemy Doris (Arlene Dahl). This designing woman knew both McClouds when they were in college, and she makes clear to a clueless Thad she's like to serve under his administration. Doris entices Thad with a lucrative job offer, giving him a purpose other than being an aimless Male First Lady.

Will he succumb? Will President McCloud manage being both President and mother to two out-of-control children? Will the McClouds survive the nation and vice versa?

One of Claude Binyon and Robert Kane's screenplay is that it has so many subplots going on that it can't keep track of them all, at least in a cohesive way. You have Walsh's machinations, Doris' intentions and Valdez's manipulations, and Kisses for My President seems to be a poorly edited series of events that never tie them together.

Even worse, Kisses for My President forgets that it already has a good story already there: Thad McCloud's efforts at being First Lady (oddly, while he and others refer to Thad as "First Lady", no one ever thought of using "First Gentleman" or "First Man"). We get a scene where Thad visits the First Lady's office and meets his social and personal secretaries, but we never see or hear from them again. A whole film could have been built around Thad's bumbling but perhaps eventually successful turn as a trailblazer in his own right.

Kisses For My President (1964) — The Movie Database (TMDb)
The few bits where he tries to be the male Jacqueline Kennedy or Mamie Eisenhower are about the only real funny bits in Kisses for My President. There's a brief sight gag where after seeing a painting of Mrs. William Howard Taft he takes a second glace and is taken aback to see his portrait instead, wearing Mrs. Taft's large hat. The funniest part is when he attempts to do his own televised White House Tour (obviously inspired by Mrs. Kennedy's successful efforts). The highly nervous President's husband had already taken four tranquilizers before given two upper and liquor to calm him down. Totally inebriated and essentially out-of-it, Thad makes a right mess of it.

"The East Room is the scene of many sappy and holemn events," he half-giggles, completely unaware the script called for "happy and solemn" events. The sequence, unfortunately very brief, had an I Love Lucy-like quality, showing MacMurray as a strong comic actor. A whole film could have been built around finding a male attempting to do the traditionally feminine tasks of a First Lady, but Kisses for My President instead veered all over the place.

The Valdez subplot was probably the worst. I have no idea why Eli Wallach was the go-to guy for Hispanic characters, but his performance is a bit uncomfortable to watch. Granted, he went all-in and even managed a clever quip: when trying to pick up a woman at a bar, he's asked if he had an invitation. "She walks like an invitation," he replies, a surprisingly noir-like line. However, he added nothing except a stereotype.

The Doris subplot was better, and Dahl gave it her all as the siren enticing our hapless Male First Lady. Her scenes with MacMurray were amusing in her open efforts at seduction and his sometimes awareness of said attempts. The Walsh subplot could have pretty much been forgotten.

As mentioned, MacMurray was in strong form as our emasculated First Gentleman, and Bergen did well as the more level-headed President. Performance-wise I think we can extend some grace given it is a comedy and not meant to be serious, but the film as a whole is too long for the stories it is telling.

Kisses for My President may not be in any way "progressive", but it may be instructive in how gender roles were perceived in 1964, curiously a Presidential election year. It in its way does tackle the subject of essentially the struggles of fitting into roles when things are reversed, and the temptation of a man to begin an affair if he feels neglected. As frothy and silly as Kisses for My President is, as a film itself the negatives slightly overwhelm the positives and potentials for them.


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