Kidnapping of a President (1980): Shatner to the Rescue!

When I first saw that Stacia from She Blogged By Night was hosting a William Shatner Blogathon, I was really excited to take part in it. As longtime readers will know, for the last two years, I have done a salute to Shatner each March to celebrate the great man’s birthday. So when it came time to find a film to add to the Blogathon, I was a little stumped until I remembered that there was one I wanted last time I did You Don’t Know Shat that I couldn’t get, 1980’s Kidnapping of a President. Thankfully, after much finagling, Netflix came though for me and delivered a copy of this lesser known and little seen Shatner film to my door. Released only one year after the bloated epic Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kidnapping of a President stars a Shatner in transition. The success of The Wrath of Kahn and T.J. Hooker was still two years away, and the late seventies had found him stuck in the mire of made for TV films. Kidnapping brought Shatner to the multiplexes with a film that hints at his later, famous cop role and proves that William is a man of action even without a starship.

Shatner stars as FBI agent Jerry O’Conner. While he is second in command of the FBI, many people think he’s a paranoid crackpot who can’t get over the assassination of JFK twenty years earlier. Making his job more difficult is populist President Adam Scott (Hal Holbrook), a folksy Jimmy Carter type that wants to wave to the crowds from open top cars and shake the hands of the people. O’Conner ends up in charge of the President’s security during a diplomatic mission of Canada, but his paranoia of assassination attempts is circumvented. South American Marxist revolutionary Roberto Assanti (Miguel Fernandes)  snatches the President and tosses him in an armored car which is rigged with explosives. If Assanti’s demands aren’t met by midnight, the impenetrable truck with the president inside, will blow up. It’s up to Agent O’Conner and Canadian cop Mackenzie (Michael J. Reynolds) to come up with come way to get the President out in time.

For a film that made its debut seventeen years after JFK’s assassination, it was interesting to see how the specter of his killing along with those of Bobby Kennedy and George Wallace hung over the proceedings of this film. From the opening credits, the idea of the Presidency and the men who are charged to protect it are forefront as a montage plays out highlighting the faceless agents of the FBI. All of this is set to the tune of ‘Hail to the Chief’ which becomes the major musical theme of the film. If it ever happens to slip your mind who has been kidnapped, you don’t have to wait too long for the President’s theme song to pop up again. To the modern viewer, the thought of Kennedy’s assassination being so prescient might seem odd (especially in the scenes where Shatner’s O’Conner refreshes a room of top brass on it and other politically motivated violence), but I would imagine for the men charged with protecting Gerald Ford (who survived an attack by Squeaky Fromme) and Jimmy Carter, the idea was never too far from their minds.

Of course what brought me to Kidnapping of a President was Shatner, and he does not disappoint. During the first fourty minutes that lead up to the titular kidnapping, Shatner establishes his FBI agent as a maverick who has been marginalized due to his perceived paranoia. His acting is actually pretty reserved in this part of the film, but watch out. After the President gets taken, Shatner ramps up the intensity and he plays out the rest of the film just under the line of shuddering mania he exhibited two years later while screaming “KAAAAAAHHHNNNN!” As always the Shat is lots of fun to watch, and in particular his scenes with veteran actor Hal Holbrook stand out. He also has great chemistry with Miguel Fernandes who plays the Che Guvera inspired revolutionary. Fernandes, who also appeared in films such as Ghost Story and Trancers, provides a menacing counterpoint to Shatner’s crusading agent. Kidnapping of a President also features performances from a couple of Hollywood legends, Van Johnson as the crooked Vice President and Ava Gardner as his power hungry wife.

The main thing that struck me while watching Kidnapping of a President was how well it was filmed. From the crazed confusion of the crowds crushing down on the President to wonderful shots of downtown Toronto, there are some really striking visuals that elevate the film far above the schlock it could have been. Director George Mendeluk only had one feature film under his belt, 1979’s Stone Cold Dead, and would spend most of the rest of his career in television, but he and cinematographer Mike Molloy (Shock Treatment, Mad Dog Morgan) gave the film a feeling that worked well to heighten tension throughout the film. The same can’t be said of the score by Paul Zaza (Porky’s, A Christmas Story) and avant-garde composer Nash the Slash. Alternating between versions of ‘Hail to the Chief’ and a cross between Tinto Puente and Phillip Glass, the score detected from much of what was being done visually.

As a Shatner fan, Kidnapping of a President was an interesting addition to his body of work. I had a great time watching the Canadian actor play an American FBI agent who has to save the President when they go to Canada, but I don’t know that outside of hardcore Shatnerites if it would hold many people’s attention. As a political thriller, it is no Manchurian Candidate or Three Days of the Condor, but there is enough to like in the acting and performances that I definitely think even detractors of The Shat would find something to like here. That about wraps it up for me, but head on over to She Blogged by Night for more Shatner goodness, and I can’t wait to see what other goodies folks have to add about the man, the myth, the Shatner.

Bugg Rating

Sadly no trailer for this one, but here's a political commercial for the Shatner-Hasselhoff ticket.
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  1. "man of action-even without a star ship" would make a great band name.


  2. For some reason i always fancied that strange looking old slag (shes now 71) Jackie Burroughs who appears in this film. She was 41 when this movie was made and had a face that you couldn`t help noticing.

  3. I'll have to check it out, because I, too, dig the Shat.


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