...Jane Alexander in All the President's Men (1976)
approximately 5 minutes and 40 seconds
roughly 4% of film's total running time
We meet Alexander's Judy as one the many women working within the Washington political apparatus contacted by Woodward and Bernstein to share what they might know about the Nixon administration's possible corruption. In a carefully crafted sequence of scenes featuring different women, the film emphasizes the three main obstacles that Bernstein and Woodward must overcome as they seek information from their sources: fear, loyalty and accurate information. Where the first woman the duo approach (the reliably fascinating/weird Valerie Curtin) is overwhelmed by her fear of authority, the second (possibly Neva Patterson) is impelled by her loyalty to her employers. A third (the routinely under-utilized Allyn Ann McLerie) is unburdened by either fear or loyalty, but her enthusiastic readiness to talk cannot overcome the fact that she has little to offer the investigators in the way of relevant, specific information. By sequencing these encounters in close (if not quick) succession, director Pakula amplifies a kind of empathetic tension within the audience, each encounter a snarl of hopes quickly raised and readily dashed. Thus, this sequence of encounters also primes the audience for Bernstein's encounter with Alexander's Judy Hoback, the first "bombshell" interview of the story, one which delivers crucial fragments of information that will coordinate the remaining screen narrative.
We first encounter Alexander's Judy as an offstage voice, begging her sister not to let that reporter from The Washington Post in the house.
Our first real look at the character of Judy is through the staircase railing, a framing that unsubtly conveys the carceral (or prison-like) feeling created by the Nixon administration's climate of bureaucratic intimidation.
The pressures of propriety (Judy's sister seems intent, for what reason we don't know, on welcoming Hoffman's Bernstein with enthusiastic hospitality) impel Alexander's Judy to sit with the visiting reporter and parry his assertive litany of questions.
Alexander's Judy warily maneuvers (our) now-familiar terrain of fear, loyalty and information with intelligence and empathy. Alexander deftly demonstrates that Judy is not only terrified of the professional consequences should she share information with this reporter, but also that she is deeply torn by competing loyalties -- to her bosses, her co-workers, her country, herself. Moreover, Alexander quickly conveys that Judy understands the relevance and potential significance of information she possesses.
In this scene, Alexander demonstrates Judy's range of mostly intellectual and ethical conflicts with emotional precision, each evasive non-answer revealing as much as it conceals. In this single emotionally tense (though not intense) scene, the film utilizes the character of Judy (and Alexander's adept performance) to confirm that this interview has the potential to crack the story wide open (which it ultimately does) even as it also amplifies the emotional dimensions of concealing (and revealing) the mundane bits of information that would prove so politically explosive in the Watergate scandal.
Perhaps, then, it's little surprise that Jane Alexander's performance as Judy is widely misremembered as a one-scene wonder. This, despite the fact that Alexander's Judy does make a brief reappearance in a second scene during which both Woodward (Redford at the top of his 70s game as an ethical everyhunk) and Bernstein surprise Judy again, this time when she's sitting on her porch sipping lemonade while wearing a kicky caftan.
In this second brief scene, Alexander's Judy somewhat inadvertently confirms the full dimensions of her original bombshell non-testimony. However, the scene's casual tone -- as well as Alexander's much less fraught performance in it -- also provides the film's first real cue that the cat's out of the bag and that "the rest" will be an escalating cascade of incrementally damaging revelations (though Woodward and Bernstein don't know that quite yet).
Jane Alexander's performance as "Bookkeeper" Judy Hoback is, for most intents and purposes, an uncommonly vivid plot device, an admirable bit of actressing that uses emotion and empathy to mark an essential node in a plot overstuffed with intricate detail. It's a turning point in the story and Alexander's deft work in the scene helps to make the moment emotionally as well as intellectually significant. Adept, professional, and memorable work. Yet, if pressed, I would have to admit that, yes, that's pretty much all it is.