The Kidnapping Of The President

Director: George Mendeluk
William Shatner, Hal Holbrook, Van Johnson

I am smart. I know I am, because I am smart enough to know that I am smart. I did very well at university, for one thing. And as this web site shows, I am very knowledegable about movies, especially when it comes to the obscure, unknown, and little shown. But I will freely admit that in certain areas, I am not what you would call an expert. For example, I know beans about sports. For all I know, the Chicago Bears have a great chance of winning the next Stanley Cup. I just don't have the mind for certain subjects like that. However, there are a few things I don't have a mind for that I am thankful for not having expertise on. In this day and age, I am glad that I don't have the mind of a professional criminal. That's because in this day, it is more likely than ever that you will be caught, even if you have the idea in your mind that you will succeed in whatever criminal venture you decide to go into. Believe me, during my lifetime I have daydreamed about what exactly I would do if I wanted to commit certain crimes. There have often been times when I have thought that I could pull off the perfect crime if I wanted to... then later, realizing that I didn't think of something that would as a result lead the authorities to my doorstep after committing the crime. For a long time I wished to become an instant millionaire by finding bags of money on the street accidentally dropped out of the improperly shut doors of a security van - something that has actually happened to other people a number of times over the years. But as the years went by, I became glad it never happened. Security cameras are everywhere, for one thing, and no doubt I would be photographed multiple times carrying the bags of money from where I found it to the cameras in my apartment building. And those other people who found money always seemed to be caught when they didn't immediately turn in to the police what they found.

Sometimes I have caught myself imagining doing crimes of a more darker nature. Not because I actually want to do these things, but more as a mental exercise, to give myself a challenge during an otherwise boring time of my day. One crime I have imagined myself doing is kidnapping. I can tell you that after years of thinking about it and reading/watching about actual kidnapping cases, I would still be a lousy kidnapper if I decided to do it in real life, lousy enough that I would surely be caught. For starters, first I would have to find an appropriate victim, one that had loved ones that would fork over a substantial amount of dough in ransom. There's no one in my city I personally know who's like that. Research would probably uncover someone like that, but that would mean a substantial investment of my own time and money. And speaking of such investment, I would also have to invest additional time and money researching the person - finding his or her movements, finding ways to break through their security at the most appropriate moment. Then I would have to actually nab the individual - something that would be hard, even if I had a gun. Most likely I would need a partner, and while a partner could help in some aspects, a partner could also bring in a number of additional problems and challenges. Whether I use a partner or not, there would be further problems like finding a place to keep my kidnap victim while waiting for the ransom money. And when the ransom money is ready, I would have to figure out a way to collect the money safely. No doubt the police would be waiting at a ransom drop. Probably I should demand the money be wired to a Swiss bank account, but how do you set up one of those things? If I had to travel to Switzerland, that would mean even more of an investment of time and money.

There's no doubt about it - I would be a terrible kidnapper. Even if I knew the correct thing to do with each step, I would probably screw up the execution of it somehow. Still, I enjoy now and then giving myself the mental exercise of a kidnapping. And when I get the chance to watch a movie about a kidnapping, I find it fun to watch the characters do what they do and ask The Kidnapping Of The Presidentmyself what I would do in their situation. So you can imagine when I found a copy of The Kidnapping Of The President, I felt I would be greatly entertained. Not just that it had any old kidnapping, but a kind that you don't often see in a movie. Kidnapping the American President? How on earth would they do that? And how would the authorities in the movie react to it? I had to know. I was also interested in the movie because it was a Canadian movie made during the late '70s / early '80s tax shelter era - an era where Canadians made real movies instead of the unwatchable so-called movies they make today. After an introduction set in South America, the movie moves to Washington D.C., where President Adam Scott (Holbrook, Rituals) is preparing an official visit to Toronto. Jerry O'Connor (Shatner, Impulse), the chief of the Secret Service, has received wind that a South American Marxist group lead by one Roberto Assanti (played by Miguel Fernandes) may be planning something in Toronto. O'Connor tries to warn the president, but his concerns are brushed off. As you may have guessed, Assanti has indeed something planned, the title activity. You might think someone with only the assistance of two other individuals could never nab the President, but not long after President Scott arrives in downtown Toronto, Assanti executes an ingenious plan that quickly has him handcuffed to the President and showing off a vest made up with sticks of dynamite to the Secret Service, who dare not shoot him. Assanti soon after has the President locked in a van wired with explosives, and demands a $100 million ransom. O'Connor knows they cannot touch Assanti or try to rescue the president because Assanti has a partner nearby watching the van with a remote detonating device. It's up to O'Connor to rescue the President and stop Assanti from getting away.

A pretty interesting and original plot, I think you'll agree. Other later films have dealt with the kidnapping of the President (such as Executive Target), but this might be the first that actually did it. As I said, I was very interested in how it would be pulled off and how it would be resolved, and those parts of the movie gave me some pleasure. Actually, The Kidnapping Of The President has several other little pleasures that do make it stand above many of the other Canadian tax-shelter movies of the era. (Though as inferior as many of them may have been, they were still real movies.) One pleasure for me was that Canada, specifically Toronto, was for once playing itself and not some American or vague North American location. It's especially surprising, because reportedly the Charles Templeton novel the movie is based on actually takes place in the United States. Maybe these particular Canadian filmmakers had some real pride in their product for once because of the resources they had at hand. Besides having notable stars like William Shatner and Hal Holbrook, the cast also includes Van Johnson as the Vice President, and Ava Gardner as the Vice President's wife. Also, while many tax shelter movies of the era looked somewhat cheap, this effort looks like it had a significant budget. We get sights like a full presidential motorcade traveling down the streets of Toronto while hundreds of extras line the sides of the streets. The various sets built for the movie, ranging from the Oval Office to the interior of Air Force One, are pretty well done. The photography and the lighting are professionally done as well. This is one tax shelter movie that could have possibly fooled some people into thinking it was made by major Hollywood studio filmmakers.

Okay, maybe the opening of the movie, taking place in the South American wilderness, is laughable because the filmmakers try to pass off the North American wilderness as the jungles of South America. But otherwise, the movie has a professional feel to it. One other pleasure I got with the movie was with the depiction of the president. Despite all that happens to the President, he never once panics or makes a fool out of himself. He always acts in a confident manner, bravely trying to fight back at one point, and later in the movie when he's handcuffed in the van, he tries to figure a way out instead of sitting back and doing nothing. Holbrook plays his role well. In fact, he's the one character in The Kidnapping Of The President that you'll probably remember long after you've watched the movie. To put it kindly, the other characters in the movie are not very memorable. The worst character construction prize has to go to the chief villain. Roberto Assanti is a very boring character. He has a lot less dialogue than you might think, and he says almost nothing in the way of his ambitions and his feelings. He's even offscreen for significant periods of time. The actor playing him seems to have no enthusiasm for being placed in this role. Speaking of no enthusiasm, that's also the feeling viewers will get with the character of Jerry O'Connor. Although Shatner thankfully doesn't give his character the generous serving of ham that he has often given to characters in other projects, Shatner delivers his dialogue in a way that feels like he is reading the script for the first time, giving no emotion or color to his words at all. You get the feeling he doesn't want to be in this movie at all, and is wishing he were back in sunny Los Angeles instead of being back in the country he was born and raised in.

Speaking of people reluctant to being involved with a Canadian movie set in Canada, I got the same feeling with the screenwriter, director, and the producer. Yes, the movie is set (primarily) in Canada... but that is about all that is done with the setting. Before watching the movie, I thought that setting the movie in Canada would lead to some interesting moments, such as the Canadian authorities in the movie clashing with O'Connor and his fellow American Secret Service agents. But nothing like that really happens. The Canadian Prime Minister appears in one scene, but is quickly convinced by O'Connor to let the Americans handle the situation. Although this is probably what would happen in real life (it wouldn't be the first time Canadian authorities have been cowed by American authorities), it's still feels disappointing. The movie would need almost no rewriting to be set in the United States. But the biggest disappointment with The Kidnapping Of The President is that while it is supposed to be a thriller, there is precious little in the way of thrills. Scene after scene goes by where you think there would be some tension, such as when the terrorists bump into the Ontario police on their way to Toronto, but are directed in such a matter-of-fact manner by George Mendeluk (Meatballs III) that there is no feeling of excitement. Mendeluk doesn't even use the crutch of creepy music to enliven a scene that should be tense. Even after the president is kidnapped, the movie at times puts the precarious situation on the backburner. In fact, the first real attempt to free the president comes about ten minutes before the movie ends, and by then the audience has probably fallen asleep. Too bad. This movie had a lot going for it, but the I-don't-care attitude of some key members of the production sinks it.

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See also: City On Fire, Executive Target, Rituals