Ethics & Public Policy Center

Murder at 1600

Published in EPPC Online on April 1, 1997



It’s too bad that the people in Dwight Little’s Murder at 1600 don’t know, postmodern style, that they are in a movie. It would have saved them an awful lot of trouble spent working out who it was that killed the attractive blonde in the White House one rainy night. Of course everybody’s first answer must be the President. We know from scores of recent films that Presidents are evil and corrupt and capable of murdering pretty blondes without giving the matter a second thought. But here’s where Little crosses you up, that clever devil. He makes President Neil (Ronny Cox) a Jimmy Carter clone (the portrait of Carter in the White House is the most focused on of that building’s decorations) trying to deal with an international hostage situation involving the North Koreans while being goaded to be more agressive by a sinister-looking general and other aides who think (like a significant proportion of the population) that he is a wimp.

Ah-ha! The case is altered. Enough said. At once any moderately close observer of Hollywood politics must realize that it is the warmongering head of the National Security Council, Alvin Jordan (Alan Alda), who is the guilty party. (I’m not sure I’m not giving anything away here to readers so perspicacious as those of the American Spectator.) Oh sure, there are a couple of red herrings. The filmmakers try briefly to convince us that it was the President’s playboy son, Kyle (Tate Donovan) or his formidably controlling chief of security, Nick Spikings (Daniel Bengali) whodunnit. But although the hero, Detective Regis of the D.C. police homicide unit (Wesley Snipes), his white sidekick Detective Stengel (Dennis Miller), and the comely Secret Service agent and former Olympic sharpshooter, Nina Chance (Diane Lane) might briefly be taken in, we need not be.

But if you can bear to sit through the film to the end, it is worth doing so if you are at all a connoisseur, as I am, of absurd endings to political films. Jordan goes to the president with the story that they’ve got the goods on Kyle, but that he has seen to it that the evidence is destroyed. It is a total bluff. In fact, of course, the evidence of a White House security videotape (didn’t think of that did you Mr. Smartypants?) clearly implicates Jordan himself, but the wimpy president doesn’t even ask to see the supposed evidence. Instead he asks: “What do you want?”

“Your resignation,” says Jordan. Meekly the president offers it, in the process demonstrating that he is willing to engage in what he supposes to be a coverup and obstruction of justice in order to save his son. Yet he is still meant to be sympathetic. Jordan, meanwhile, not content to accept his triumph in silence, begins lecturing the president on how, since he has never “served your country in the military” he can never understand the necessity for military action in the case of the hostages in North Korea. Hm. I wonder what president the authors could be thinking of there?

The absurdity rises to its wacky height when the two bloodhound investigators, Regis and Ms Chance (between whom, as between Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington in The Pelican Brief, there is no romance since too many viewers would presumably be offended by an interracial love affair), are themselves named as prime suspects. A mysterious, murderous “they”—Jordan? the Secret Service? the D.C. police?—attempt to silence them. Of course they are unsuccessful. The finally masterful president orders the Secret Service (hitherto uniformly unsympathetic) to arrest the comically rabid Mr Alda, who says that the dead chick was “a casualty of war” and quotes in defense of murder and treason our twenty-fifth president: “I think President Teddy Roosevelt said it best: If I have to choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness.”

Only in Hollywood, folks. Only in Hollywood.

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