Retired Washingtonian editor Jack Limpert’s piece last week about firing a film critic for praising Oliver Stone’s “JFK” brought in this comment from former Washington Post critic Tom Shales: “Jack, as a critic who once worked for you, I am shocked! Plus whatever fault you could find in Stone’s politics, his mastery of cinematic technique in JFK, and later on Nixon, was impressive.”
Gary Arnold, the great film critic of The Washington Post, was forced out because a couple of editors, one named Ben, were upset that he didn’t like Tender Mercies, which had made them cry — boo hoo. Posterity has not been kind to that corny film; Gary was right.
Ben Bradlee fired Arnold over his April 1983 “Tender Mercies” review? (Headline: “Miserable ‘Mercies’: Duvall: Movin’ slow on the lone prairie.”) I called the retired critic to check that out.
“I asked Ben about it” at the time, says Arnold, “and he said there was nothing to it. …I thought there was something silly and trifling about [the rumor]. I thought it was pretty ridiculous. Why predicate anything on a single review? An accumulation of discontent would make more sense.”
Besides, no editor ever complained to him about the “Mercies” review, he says.
Arnold was removed as film critic in August of 1984, after 16 years, but stayed at the Post for 13 more months to do book reviews and other assignments.
The departure, he says, was “amicable.”
“You can’t have the notion that you have a job for life,” says 72-year-old Arnold. “They wanted to make a change” and eventually hired Paul Attanasio.
The retired critic seemed surprised that the “Tender Mercies” rumor was still circulating. “It’s had a longer life than it certainly deserves, and it’s one that’s never bothered me.”