Book Review: Movie Nights with the Reagans by Mark Weinberg

During their eight years in office, Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, watched a total of 363 movies during their weekends at Camp David. Not only were they the big box-office hits of that time (1980-1988), but they also consisted of the classics before that era, as well as what Ronald Reagan referred to as the “golden oldies,” which were the films in which he starred. In Movie Nights with the Reagans,Mark Weinberg, a former spokesperson, adviser, and speechwriter to President Reagan, focuses primarily on the films of the 1980s that made the biggest impressions on the couple and also takes a few chapters to discuss some of the Reagan-starring features that were presented.

Most of the chapters are devoted to the discussion of one film and the events surrounding the time in which it was screened for the president and his staff. One of the great things about Weinberg’s memoir is that it doesn’t just focus on the film and the president’s thoughts; it also gives the reader a glimpse into what was going on behind the scenes and gives rather detailed descriptions about places like Camp David or Reagan’s office in Los Angeles post-presidency. The discussion on some of the films comes across as brief, which is somewhat odd, considering the book is titled Movie Nights with the Reagans. But Weinberg is still able to entertain and educate readers with his insightful knowledge – noting all of his sources at the bottom of each page when necessary – and each chapter is short, making this an easily digestible book for both movie lovers and fans of the Reagans.

Each chapter has a subtitle affiliated with the film or films discussed, giving a tease as to how the Reagans reacted after the screening or screenings. For example, the first chapter talks about how both of the Reagans were appalled by the pot smoking in 9 to 5 that it helped launch Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No!” campaign. Although Weinberg doesn’t go into full detail on what the Reagans thought about the overall film, he does mention that they did laugh at several moments. So it’s safe to assume that, despite the pot-smoking scene, they liked the movie as a whole.

There are some films that the Reagans did truly love, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Each of the films mentioned in the book had the Reagans reflecting on something, whether it be from their film careers and how the movies were when they were acting, or something from their personal lives. The Reagans had no interest in films that were driven by sex or violence, but some of the films they did watch were violent such as John Milius’ Red Dawn – the first film to receive the PG-13 rating – and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. Both of those films had a particular focus in which the Reagans were interested – the former showcasing retaliation against the Communists and the latter showcasing a takedown of the Mob.

Outside of the movies, Weinberg also offers readers a glimpse at Ronald Reagan the person. There are some stories within Movie Nights with the Reagans that have never been shared to the general public before, such as when Reagan went out of his way to return a cheap pen he borrowed from Weinberg weeks prior. Another was how Reagan apologized for joking about how a comment Weinberg made sounded like he was in favor of Communism. It’s the personal moments that really work the best here.

Reagan may have been a divisive president, but Weinberg’s book doesn’t cater to only one side of the aisle. Even though he admits to being biased, his trip down memory lane is filled with enough intrigue and information for anyone with a love for both politics and movies. There are plenty of heartfelt and humorous moments throughout Weinberg’s book that all can enjoy. It makes one wonder what the Reagans would have thought of the films being released today. Unfortunately, that is something we will never know.

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David Wangberg

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