“The most devastating detective story of this century.”All the President’s Men follows the discovery and subsequent news coverage of the Watergate scandal by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) during the early 1970s. The film was adapted by William Goldman from the book of the same title, which chronicles the investigative reporting of Woodward and Bernstein from their initial reports on the Watergate break-in to the revelation of the Richard Nixon tapes in 1973.For those unaware, the story is true.
Also Carl Bernstein, who in real life was never as adorably attractive as Dustin Hoffman. Though the trope does not hold true for Hugh Sloan, who was every bit as attractive IRL as the man who played him in the film (Stephen Collins).
Adaptation Distillation: The film essentially condenses the investigation to a streamlined narrative, and takes some liberties with narrative devices (for instance, the phrase “follow the money” was invented for the film by Goldman).
Affably Evil: Segretti seems like a decent guy when Bernstein goes to interview him. But then you have to realize that he sabotaged Muskie’s campaign and mentored the likes of Karl Rove …
Amoral Attorney: Segretti. He was college buddies with Chapin at law school.
Capped by the then–Attorney General John Mitchell.
Averted for the most part by everyone else in the legal profession, who are shown as competent and trying to figure out just what the hell happened with a third-rate burglary.
Autobiographical Role: Frank Wills, the security guard shown at the beginning of the film during the attempted break-in, was the actual security guard who notified authorities to the incident in real life.
Beware the Honest Ones: Hugh Sloan, who had resigned from the campaign right around the break-in, and pretty much the one decent character in the entire story (even the protagonists Woodward/Bernstein bend the rules in pursuit of their reporting). He’d love to tell the reporters more about what he knows—actually, he doesn’t, the entire experience is making him miserable—but he’s restricted by what he can say due to the ongoing grand jury investigation.
Played with when Sloan tells the reporters about Haldeman’s role, and the reporters write up that he’ll testify to that effect. When Sloan doesn’t testify to that in the grand jury, it makes the newspaper look like liars and gives the Nixon people a reason to denounce the whole story. When confronted later, Sloan tells Woodward and Bernstein he wanted to testify about Haldeman, but the special prosecutor never asked.
Cassandra Truth: John Mitchell’s wife, Martha, is mentioned offhand as going around town indicting Nixon for the whole Watergate fiasco. No one believes her.
Of course, Martha also claimed her husband was innocent, despite the fact Mitchell had handled a slush fund personally and knew about the break-in and coverup.
Composite Character: The Bookkeeper, played by Jane Alexander, was a composite of various staffers working in the CRP campaign.
Mostly, she was Judy Hoback, who provided a wealth of useful information.
Subverted with Deep Throat: a number of critics and amateur sleuths were convinced Deep Throat was an invention of Woodward to make it harder to identify one informant in Nixon’s inner circle. Also because Deep Throat seemed too freaky to be real. It was always one man (Mark Felt).
Dirty Cop: John Mitchell, the Top Cop—Attorney General—of United States law enforcement.
Averted for the most part by the cops and law enforcement types at the grunt level.
The Watergate Burglars—and their handlers—were mostly CIA: technically dirty spies,note Isn’t that basically whatspies do? Look for material in someone’s history that a normal person would try to see as private subject matter by generally devious and often underhanded means? not cops.
Exact Words: The White House denounces the Washington Post's reporting as "hearsay", "innuendo", and "character assassination". What the White House doesn't do is accuse the Post of lying or being mistaken. Bradlee calls this the "non-denial denial".
Foregone Conclusion: Nixon will get impeached, depicted by a teletype.note Of course, he was too smart to stick around long enough for Congress to impeach and convict him; the last scene does note that he has resigned and ceded the presidency to Vice President Gerald Ford.
Intrepid Reporter: Woodward and Bernstein set the modern standard for investigative reporting in the United States.
Method Acting: In a way. Redford and Hoffman memorized each other's lines so they could interrupt each other and step on each other's lines, making the dialogue sound more natural. Several of their scenes together are also fully or partially ad-libbed.
Noodle Incident: The Watergate hearings and Nixon’s resignation are not depicted in the movie, only related by teletyped headlines before the credits.
Woodward tries reaching Deep Throat early on, noting how Deep Throat had been a go-to source on Woodward’s earlier stories into the attempted assassination of George Wallace. It’s an early clue by the way that Deep Throat was FBI, since both the FBI was in charge of that investigation and because Woodward quoted FBI officials including Mark Felt.
Odd Couple: Woodward is tidy, ex-military, and a registered Republican. He’s also an exemplary researcher and interviewer. Bernstein is unkempt, disorganized, and a wannabe rock music critic. He’s also a better writer than Woodward. Together, they write investigative reports!
And Woodward’s apartment is a disaster, while Bernstein’s is relatively neat.
At one point Bernstein ashes all over the couch in Bradlee's office, while Woodward reaches over and dusts it off.
Which starts annoying the hell out of Bradlee, because it makes it harder to vouch that the newspaper’s reporting is accurate. One misprint and Nixon’s people will denounce the whole story …
The Oner: A six-minute sequence in the hunt for Kenneth H. Dahlberg, starting when Woodward gets back to his desk to use the phone. Redford actually flubs his line towards the end and calls Dahlberg by the wrong name but stays in character which makes the shot work anyway.
Poke in the Third Eye: Woodward comes to Bernstein's apartment, insists on turning classical music, loud, and communicates with Bernstein by typing notes on his typewriter after being warned that their apartments are bugged.
The piece we hear is Vivaldi's Concerto in C for Two Trumpets.
Portmanteau Couple Name: The two reporters are called “Woodstein” in-universe during a discussion about whether to take them off the story.
Bradlee bellows WOODSTEIN!!! when one of their confirmed stories appears to have been wrong.
Bradlee: Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m gonna get mad. Goodnight.
Forty years later, Woodward and Bradlee are still chortling over Mitchell’s quote on panel shows and interviews. Bradlee referred to “Mrs. Graham’s arrangements” in a documentary. Katie Graham herself loved it, and this was her favorite film.
Properly Paranoid: Almost everybody with a connection to both the break-in and the CRP corrupt campaigning. Deep Throat practically works up Woodward into a paranoid state after a particular meeting.
Mocked later by Woodward when Bernstein, wired on thirty cups of coffee, babbles about his meeting with a secretary who finally gave some details, and his fear that CBS would barge in and scoop the story:
Woodward: You’re both paranoid. She’s afraid of John Mitchell, and you’re afraid of Walter Cronkite.
Verified at the end when Deep Throat is certain that the reporters’ homes are bugged. In real life, they weren’t.
Reality Is Unrealistic: At one point Woodward is trying to interview a noticeably upset man (Kenneth Dahlberg, the top Republican fundraiser in Minnesota) over the phone about unusual campaign contributions. Without warning, Dahlberg says “I can’t talk to you right now, my neighbor’s wife has been kidnapped!” and hangs up. What looks like a weird excuse to avoid questioning, however, wasn’t: Dahlberg’s neighbor’s wife was kidnapped, and Dahlberg was overwhelmed with helping his neighbor out at the time.
This was the Virginia Piper case. She was fine—shaken up but not hurt.
And Dahlberg called back later and answered some of Woodward’s questions.
Scenery Porn: You will never find another movie that depicts office space this beautifully … Oh, and the Washington, DC backdrops are nice to look at …
Shout-Out: An in-film one. Deep Throat relates a story of G. Gordon Liddy putting a lit flame to his hand at the party. The dialogue he relates Liddy as speaking are a word-for-word transcription from a similar scene in Lawrence of Arabia.
Shown Their Work: The production crew on the film spent $450,000 to replicate the Washington Post newsroom after it was deemed too distracting to shoot in the actual newsroom (as reporters would try to act for the cameras). To that end, they replicated the entire floorplan of the newsroom and got the Post to send over several crates of actual newsroom correspondence, which is shown throughout the film. This trope is also relevant to the tools and tactics the duo use to get information during the film; their methods have become a oft-copied standard of print journalism.
Smoking Gun: The tapes implicate Nixon’s involvement in the scandal.
The stuff about the tapes, however, never comes up during the movie. It happened later.
Stealth Hi/Bye: Deep Throat does this to Woodward at their second meeting. Somewhat justified here as Deep Throat was paranoid about being followed, and there was a noise of a car starting up; Woodward turned to look at it, and when he turned back, Deep Throat was gone.
Suspiciously Specific Denial: Relating a conversation to a managing editor, Woodward explains that a source denied information about Watergate that he was never asked about in the first place.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Averted in one sequence where the pair of reporters plan out how they will get a stubborn source to talk.
Visible Boom Mic: One is seen late in the film when the pair are walking toward Bradlee’s office.
In the version shown on Turner Classic Movies the mic was digitally removed.
The Watcher: Deep Throat. Understandable, as Nixon was known to fire anyone who he even thought was against him; indeed, Woodward and Bernstein were so certain their contact would be killed they made it clear they would not reveal his identity until after he died. (Although Deep Throat, AKA W. Mark Felt, beat them to it when Felt developed elderly dementia.)
What the Hell, Nixon?: one of the editors questions why the Post is digging into Watergate. Partly because nobody else was covering the story at all, but mostly because the break-in itself made no sense.
Scott: Why would the Republicans do it? McGovern’s self-destructed just like Humphrey, Muskie, the bunch of them. I don’t believe this story. It doesn’t make sense.
Until Woodward and Bernstein uncover evidence that a hired trickster—Segretti—was sabotaging Democratic primaries. All of a sudden, the break-in made more sense …