Kisses for My President (1964): Curtis Bernhardt’s Comedy, Starring Polly Bergen as Female President

Premise: In this role-reversal comedy, directed by German-born director Curtis Bernhardt, Polly Bergen becomes the first female predient of the U.S.

Leslie McCloud (Bergen) makes history when she is elected the first female President of the U.S, but husband Thad McCloud (MacMurray) is less enthusiastic, after moving to the White House with their daughter Gloria (Ahna Capri) and son Peter (Ronnie Dapo).

The new President is too busy for her family, having to deal with a powerful opposition Senator Walsh (Edward Andrews), and a Central American dictator Raphael Valdez Jr. (Eli Wallach).

The husband expresses resentment at being assigned an ultra-feminine bedroom and office. It is clear that no one has given any thought to how a President’s husband might fit into the new scheme.

Contrived plot sees that Doris Reid Weaver (Arlene Dahl), Thad’s former woman, is now an international business woman. She wants Thad back—and during a seductive visit, offers to make him Vice-President of her cosmetics company. Leslie smells Doris’s perfume on her husband that night, and confronts him.

When Thad shows visiting dictator Valdez around Washington, he gets into brawl with a diner at a burlesque show.

The first daughter is running around town with an unsuitable boyfriend, using her position with the police. The first son Peter is a bully, using his Secret Service men for protection, while terrorizing his school.

Thad ultimately finds a role in a Cold War subplot that echoes Senator McCarthy.  Thad proves that Senator Walsh blindly supports the Latin American dictator. Senator Walsh is perceived weak in resisting Communism–she refuse to give dictator Valdez more “foreign aid” money for his personal enrichment. The Soviets are also funding Valdez to prevent him from being influenced by the U.S, but as soon as the President drops her support for the dictator, the Soviets follow suit.

In the corny, disappointing ending, Leslie discovers she is pregnant, and resigns the presidency in order to devote herself to her family.  The subtext is sexist, implying that a woman could never reconcile her duties, that she could never be an efficient president and a loyal wife-mother.

What could have been a poignant comedy about gender in American politics turns into a conventional and diffuse tale.   Thad is never referred to as “first gentleman,” but rather “as president’s husband.”

Kisses for My President was the last feature of Curtis Bernhardt, whose long career had begun in Germany.  He is better known for his “women’s pictures” and noir melodramas.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Costume Design (b/w): Howard Shoup

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner was Dorothy Jeakins for “The Night of the Iguana.”

Cast
Fred MacMurray as Thad McCloud
Polly Bergen as U.S. President Leslie McCloud
Eli Wallach as Raphael Valdez Jr.
Arlene Dahl as Doris Reid Weaver
Edward Andrews as Senator Walsh
Donald May as Secret Service Agent John O’Connor
Harry Holcombe as Vice President Bill Richards
Ahna Capri as Gloria McCloud (as Anna Capri)
Ronnie Dapo as Peter McCloud
Richard St. John as Jackson
Bill Walker as Joseph
Adrienne Marden as Miss Higgins
Wilbert G. Nuttycombe as Musician

Note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on February 22, 2020.