All the Way
I think they might as well start engraving Bryan Cranston’s name on the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Movie. This is a stunning, towering, almost uncanny performance. If I closed my eyes I could imagine it was actually LBJ speaking.
(BTW: I once shook the hand of Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson at the Mid-County Airport in Nederland, Texas, when he came through on a campaign trip. The NHS band was there, in our spiffy black and gold uniforms, to play some patriotic marches as he pressed the flesh. We also played the official Vice Presidential Anthem, which is four ruffles and flourishes followed by “Hail Columbia.”)
The movie covers LBJ’s presidency from its horrible beginning in Dallas, to his election victory over Barry Goldwater. The first scenes are actually at Parkland Hospital, where a blood-drenched doctor delivers the awful news that JFK is dead.
The main thrust of this story is his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, and the civil rights bill he wanted to pass. I didn’t recall just how hard that was, with the fucking racist “Dixiecrats” filibustering for over two months. We see pigs like Strom Thurmond and his ilk, determined to stop the bill at all costs. Contrasted with them is the infighting among the civil rights leaders, with firebrands like Stokely Carmichael being fed up with King’s non-violent approach. LBJ and King won the battle, but lost the South, which is still rabidly Republican.
There is also the treasonous J. Edgar Hoover’s salacious recordings of King’s philandering. (Oh, Martin, why couldn’t you have kept it in your pants? You were a preacher, fer cryin’ out loud!) And, sadly, there is poor Hubert Humphrey, LBJ’s butt boy, taking whatever the conniving, backstabbing, brilliant politician dished out, without complaint. How could we have ever thought this liberal wimp could beat Tricky Dick?
So much of this movie recalls events I had mostly forgotten, and I’m glad to see it all brought back. But what really brings to all to life is Cranston’s performance. He even looks like Johnson.