When the made-for-TV movie PATH TO WAR first aired I made a point of watching it after reading the following review describing it as having been produced by John Frankenhiemer who was saying that Lyndon Johnson was a visionary president who, if it hadn't been for Vietnam, would have been on Mount Rushmore. Frankenheimer is the same guy who produced the movie MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE which had close parallels to JFK's assassination (before he was assassinated). It was at Frankenheimer's house that Robert Kennedy slept the last night of his life and it was Frankenheimer who drove him to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where he was assassinated. It's surprising that Frankenheimer - a seeming friend of Bobby Kennedy - would say such admirable things about Lyndon Johnson who, all through the film, he portrays as being obsessed with hate for Bobby Kennedy. ~ Jackie Jura

John Frankenheimer directs LBJ film
by Lloyd Grove, Washington Post, May 9, 2002

John Frankenhiemer is no stranger to politics. "The Manchurian Candidate," Frankenheimer's film about sinister intrigue and corruption in the body politic, stands as an American classic. In 1968, he was a close friend and ad maker for presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, and drove Kennedy to the Ambassador Hotel on the June night that New York's senator won the California primary, only to be assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan.

Now the 72-year-old director has made "Path to War," an HBO movie about Kennedy's political rival, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and his tragic descent into the swamp of Vietnam. Given Frankenheimer's past allegiances, it is surprisingly sympathetic.

"LBJ was a very great domestic president, but he just didn't understand what he was doing in Vietnam, and he made a series of mistakes," Frankenheimer told us in advance of tonight's screening at the French Embassy and the movie's May 19 premiere on HBO. "I never understood the man at all. But then I really started doing a lot of reading through the years, and I became obsessed with LBJ. He really is a modern Shakespearean tragic hero--a great man who would have been on Mount Rushmore but was brought down by his war. He was bigger than life. He was vain. He was rude. And yet he was a visionary who could be as sensitive as anyone and be the most charming man in the room."

The movie, in which actor Michael Gambon portrays Johnson warts and all--with Alec Baldwin playing Defense Secretary Robert McNamara--has received favorable advance notices from LBJ loyalists. At Saturday's White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, Hollywood lobbyist Jack Valenti--one of Johnsons' closest White House aides--urged us: "You've got to see it. It's a great film."

Frankenheimer said he now understands Johnson. "He was a very insecure man and he tried to cover it up by doing that big blustering thing. He wanted to be remembered as one of the greatest presidents in history--and he almost made it."

PATH TO WAR. HBO Films, Interview with John Frankenheimer



Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~