The opening of this documentary was so powerful and funny, that you know you’re in for a treat. It started with Bill O’Reilly being grilled by late 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace. Even if it is a bit of a dig at a disgraced newsman who had to leave Fox News, it’s fun. The fun continues when we see a clip of a young Oprah Winfrey talking about how she prepares for an interview, or a younger Donald Trump, talking about how he’d never go into politics but “I could. I could do it.”
And who won’t love seeing Barbra Streisand, who has a reputation as being difficult (I know two different people that told me horror stories about how horrible she was) — getting snapped at by Wallace right before they go on air.
I lean more towards liking the Hollywood and celebrity type interviews they show, but even if that’s more your thing, how can you not realize how dangerous it is when Wallace travels to Iran to interview the Ayatollah Khomeini, and asks tough questions. All while Americans were held hostage!
For a newer generation, you’ll get a glimpse at some old school journalism, and reporters hunting down stories. For those of us older folks that grew up watching 60 Minutes, it’s nice to see segments we remembered being so powerful at the time (or some of the previously unseen archival footage). My wife did complain at one point, “I’ve seen all of this before.”
Yet I never remembered him interviewing Johnny Carson or Eleanor Roosevelt. And I didn’t mind seeing segments from his interviews with Rod Serling, Salvador Dali, Vladimir Putin, Michael Douglas, Malcolm X, Richard Nixon (who Wallace claims asked him to be his press secretary), Shirley McLaine, Betty Davis, and many more. And how can you not crack up at Serling smoking cigarettes during the interview, or Wallace half the time, smoking as he asks the tough questions.
This is Israeli director Avi Belkin’s first American documentary, and he makes a lot of great choices putting this together. The split screen was well used, and some of the other edits that give it the feel of a raw story being spliced together in the newsroom.
It was a bit of fun seeing the shows Wallace did before 60 Minutes. There was a talk show called Night Beat, a few game shows, and you’ll crack up watching a commercial where we hear, “My name is Mike Wallace and this cigarette is a Parliament.”
Wallace talks about his bad acne and how it made him realize he had a “face for radio.” It’s also interesting to find out that when you did radio in those days, you not only did voice-overs for commercials (which is still done today), but you also voiced characters on shows like Green Hornet (this is before TV was invented, kids).
One of the problems is that, just like with the recent Mr. Rogers documentary, it’s so extensive on his professional life, we don’t get enough about his personal life. They do talk about Wallace’s son leaving Yale to go to Greece, and when you find out what happened there…it’s heartbreaking.
We learn that he got married at 22, and he feels that was too young. Yet I learned more about Larry King’s marriages in this! There’s a clip talking about wife number five for King, and how if he walked into his office and there were two notes about urgent calls, one from his wife and one from CNN, he’d return the CNN call first. Wallace smiles and nods, totalling getting that. It’s very telling, but…how about telling us how many times Wallace was married. Or at the end, when this is obviously being bookended by O’Reilly clips, have mention of his other son that’s been working for Fox News for a long time.
I also don’t think they handled Wallace’s depression as thoroughly as I would’ve liked.
A few times the John Piscitello score got annoying, but more often it added a nice element to the stories being told on screen. It gave the documentary a vibe that you were watching a thriller.
There’s an interesting scene with Don Hewitt and Wallace arguing over the famous tobacco episode and whether that interview should air (the movie The Insider was made about the incident).
And speaking of movies, I thought about my old journalism teacher Mrs. Emery from Mira Mesa High School, who in the ‘80s taught us a lot about the field (I’ll always crack up at how much she made fun of USA Today when that paper hit newsstands for the first time, calling it a McNewspaper). Even though she’s long since retired, I could see her showing this documentary to her class, and smiling as Wallace asks gangster Mickey Cohen how many people he’s killed. His answer: No one who didn’t deserve it.
I still remember watching Absence of Malice (Paul Newman, Sally Field) in that class, and having her explain all the details of why it was an important film. It’s still one of my favorites.
As a kid I remember watching 60 Minutes and thinking he was an intense journalist, and enjoying Andy Rooney’s humor at the end. If you watch a news show now, with Hollywood gossip or talking heads merely screaming over each other about politics, you realize just how much the landscape has changed.
3 ½ stars out of 5.