All The Way – HBO Presents Brian Cranston as LBJ

Politics is war. You’re not running for office.You’re running for your life.

Check out the newspaper front pages and headlines. I was around back then, but I wasn’t very interested in politics. Certainly the JFK assassination was meaningful and impactful. And like most of the country, over the next few days we were glued to our sofas as our eyes watched our black and white televisions as the events unfolded.

I guess I’m saying that once Johnson assumed the office, little by little, I lost interest in keeping on top of the news of politics.

Today, more than 50 years later, the impact of Johnson’s presidency, or as he described the circumstances in the HBO Films presentation All The Way which screened tonight – [I’m] the accidental president, that’s what they’ll say, can still be felt.

Johnson’s legacy can be debated – some call him one of the country’s worst Presidents) – included getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights bill signed into law, taking on the war on poverty by means of programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start that began under the umbrella term of The Great Society, and the continuation and escalation of the US involvement in Vietnam. All the Way with LBJ was Johnson’s campaign slogan in the 1964 Presidential Election Campaign. But Johnson would choose to not run for President in 1968.

All The Way is an adaption of Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award winning stage play also called All The Way. Brian Cranston stars in LBJ just as he did on Broadway in 2014. The film is directed by Jay Roach, and Steven Spielberg is an Executive Producer.

The supporting cast includes a nearly unrecognizable Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) as Senator Hubert Humphrey, Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr, Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson, Todd Weeks as Johnson’s long-time Administrative Assistant Walter Jenkins, Steven Root as J.Edgar Hoover, and Frank Langella as Senator Richard Russell.

For the record, the film is just about a very short period of time – from JFK’s assassination in November 1963, to Johnson’s re-election to the presidency in November 1964. This is a walk through history and most of the names that you may have forgotten are portrayed in the film.

From Strom Thurmond to Robert McNamara, from Ralph Abernathy, Roy Wilkins, and Stokely Carmichael to Senator Everett Dirksen. From J.Edgar Hoover (portrayed creepily by Steven Root) to LBJ’s wife Lady Bird Johnson. Then we saw archival footage of Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Barry Goldwater, as well as Governor George Wallace. 

There was Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman. and James Chaney, the young civil rights workers who were murdered, on June 21st, 1964 near Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in this film as well. While these three young men were historical figures who should never be forgotten, in this film we learn nothing about them.

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