Small Roles, Big Performances Blog-A-Thon: Hal Holbrook, “All the President’s Men”

Our buddy Ruth Maramis over at Flixchatter has a blog-a-thon going on right now, focusing on smaller roles with big impact.

“The idea of this blog-a-thon is to… Shine a spotlight on the ‘unsung heroes’ if you will, the overlooked performers who add so much richness & entertainment value to the film no matter how brief their appearance is, but yet they don’t get the credit they so deserve.”

Took me awhile to latch on to one to write-up, especially seeing as my first choice was taken (Damn you, Cap! 😀 ), but I found a good one, I believe, with Hal Holbrook in “All the President’s Men”. It’s a small, but pivotal role in one of the greatest movies ever. The true story of how two Washington Post reporters exposed corruption in the Nixon White House and toppled an American President. The role of “Deep Throat”, though small, gives the film at least 50% of its intensity…

Click through to read more!

Hal Holbrook is probably best known for his one man stage show, “Mark Twain Tonight”. Beginning in 1954, he has portrayed Twain onstage over 2,000 times. Although he’s been in many notable movies, including “Wall Street”, “The Fog”, “Fletch Lives”, and “The Firm” to name a few, his IMDb credits list as much TV work as it does featured films. And a high-profile movie that he’s carried on his own escapes me, at the moment.

Which makes his role here all the more remarkable.

“Deep Throat” is the shadowy figure sourcing Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men”. He has since been revealed to have been Mark Felt, Associate Director of the FBI, but at the time, his identity was still a secret, so he was only referred to by a code name. Woodward (Robert Redford) would have to send a signal to request meetings, and then the two would meet in clandestine fashion in a darkened parking garage late at night. “Deep Throat” would insist Woodward change cabs in order to ensure he wasn’t followed. This atmosphere of secrecy and paranoia heightened the intensity of his appearances. Additionally, the information exchanged at the meetings was always a boost to the investigation. Woodward knew “Deep Throat” knew more than he was saying, so it was an intense game of cat and mouse to get him to divulge what he knew.

It’s a pivotal role in a high-powered, riveting story. Holbrook makes the most of it, too. He plays “Deep Throat” with intelligence and intensity. He’s both secretive and sardonic. You get the feeling watching him that he’s scared to death, yet mad as hell at what’s been going on. Dimly lit, he is literally a shadowy figure, and Holbrook voices him as such. He’s soft-spoken, but there’s a ferocity in what he’s saying. The stakes could not be higher for these conversations, and Holbrook conveys that absolutely perfectly.

It WAS a small role. But it definitely was a BIG performance. An unforgettable role, and a key element to what makes the movie so great.


43 thoughts on “Small Roles, Big Performances Blog-A-Thon: Hal Holbrook, “All the President’s Men”

  1. Great choice in Holbrook. He’s awesome in Creepshow ‘Just tell him to call you Billy!’ and the BEST part of Into the Wild.

    Even though he is now more recognized but still fits this description for me is Michael Shannon.

    I remember seeing him in Bug first and was blown away by his performance. Then his role in Revolutionary Road was again, the best part of that movie. And finally his lead in Take Shelter cemented it for me. He’s just one of those actors who has something raw. He never feels like an ‘actor’. He just becomes the role

  2. I Love Hal Holbrook!
    He Was My Favorite Part Of “Magnum Force” The 2ND Dirty Harry Flick! hehehe
    “A Man’s Got To Know His Limitations.”
    And I’ve Had The Chance To See Him Do His One Man Show Of “Mark Twain”!!!
    Love’em, Fo SHO!

  3. Siskel and Ebert did this when their show was in it’s prime. Picked a “Character” actor and listed their roles and why they made such a difference in the film. This type of thing is out of fashion in Hollywood that’s you see so many Brits picking up work in main stream movies. Guys like Toby Jones. Nice write up. No link over from Ruth’s place. She must be behind. Very, very good choice of topics!

  4. Hal Holbrook is a solid choice. He also adds a ton in his bit part talents in Men of Honor (based on a true story of Carl Brashear) as the dimented Mr. Pappy in command of the diver school where he has few lines but is the catalyst to DiNero’s Sunday not only qualifying an unyielding diver candidate Brashear, a candidate he did not previously support, and getting demoted in so doing but also in later helping Brashear become a master diver rank after losing a limb in the line of duty. Holbrook’s crazy Mr. Pappy is relieved of command soon after Brashear makes diver.

    Mr. Pappy: [in his flat, Sunday just walked in] Did you know that ordinary house dust is composed primarily ofhuman skin ?
    Billy Sunday: No sir, I didn’t know that.
    Mr. Pappy: [chuckles] Makes you think twice about who you invite into your home.

    Additionally, another iconic role for Holbrook is 1976’s Midway with an all-star cast the depicts one of the top naval battles in WW2.

    Solid pick. 😉

  5. Hi, Fogs and company:

    Great choice and critique!

    Hal Holbrook can do no wrong, no matter the size of the role.

    Even with the on location filming around DC, ‘All The President’s Men’ has never done much for me. One of the first and best attempts at Hollywood revisionist cinema.

  6. Ha ha! Deepthroat’s so awesome. “Deepthroat says follow the money.” I use that quote quite frequently in my everyday life, like whenever I’m in a parking garage.
    Another sort-of-cool movie Holbrook was in was The Star Chamber with Michael Douglas where a bunch of judges hire hit-men to execute criminals that the law forced them to pardon. It’s a pretty interesting concept and Holbrook plays the judge that convinces Douglas to join the group. It’s not Earth-shattering, but it’s a pretty decent movie and I liked it.

    • It’s funny you mention this movie popping in to mind when you’re in a parking garage. I have confused many a person by randomly doing a Hal Holbrook and asking them, “Are you sure you weren’t followed?” When in a parking garage! 😀

      I havent seen “The Star Chamber” in a long time, but I do recall it being decent, too. 😀

  7. Wow, dude, nice to see you get in on this blogathon! Is that a first? 🙂

    This movie has been on my list for a long time. Sounds like I’m going to have to bump it up a bit. If I don’t get to it this year, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll add it to next year’s project.

    • Yup. Typically, “Homie Dont Play That”, to use a 20 year old pop culture reference. LOL

      But you know, it was Ruth. And ya gotta love Ruth, so… 😀

      Meanwhile, hells yes. This movie is awesome! I predict an 8.5-9 out of you. 😀 I go full out 10, but I’m easy.

  8. Awesome blog, and yes awesome film too. I gotta re-watch this one! Well I have a confession to make. As a teen growing up in the 70s I had such a massive crush on Hal Holbrook, even though he was old enough to be my dad! Think it was his role as big bad Lt Briggs in Magnum Force what did it. My mom would’ve preferred me to have Donny Osmond as the object of affection though – as if. Hal was far sexier…! Anyways I was lucky enough to meet Hal a few years ago at one of his Mark Twain shows. I was as nervous as hell but he was such a lovely guy to talk to. Wonderful actor.

    • Thanks Gretchen! 😀 Nice of you to say…

      Cool that Holbrook was nice to you… its such an easy thing, but so many times, they’re having a bad day or whatever and they wind up a little rude. Always spoils the experience. 😦

      Glad to hear you had a positive one with Holbrook though, he seems like a class act. I would have loved to have seen that stageplay, too… I bet he was awesome as Twain. 😀

  9. Pingback: Kayley's Blog - Post 8

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