Reel Releases: Historical figures can fit well in film

Kal Penn (left) as Kumar and John Cho as Harold star in the comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, the 2004 film about two stoners' quest for hamburgers.

Although fact and fiction are considered polar opposites, conceptually speaking, there are times when truth and a good tale will intersect.


Film history is full of fictions that feature real historical figures lending a little credence to the proceedings.

While some of these are more ridiculous than real – Napoleon in Time Bandits and Ghengis Khan in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, for example – others lend a real sense of importance and authenticity to the proceedings. Here are a few favorites.


IL POSTINO (1994): The fictional friendship between a fictional Italian postman and the very real Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is more than a series of imagined encounters. It’s a cinematic tribute to both the unlimited potential found in even the most unlikely of acquaintanceships, but Neruda’s stirring poetry as well.


DICK (1999): This one has, sadly, fallen off the radar a little. In truth, it’s possible it was never on the radar. Too bad. This willfully goofy satire about two unwitting accomplices in the Nixon White House features appearances by all the expected players, with standout performances by Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward, Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy and Dave Foley as Bob Haldeman.


LION IN WINTER (1968): Set one fictional Christmas many centuries ago, Lion asks what might have happened when one of history’s least-functional families – royalty one and all – gathered for the holidays. Peter O’Toole plays King Henry II of England and Katherine Hepburn plays Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife he keeps imprisoned. Also present are the sort-of brother-in-law he’s at war with, the three sons competing to be his heir and his not-at-all secret mistress. Not surprisingly, there’s some friction beneath the mistletoe.


HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (2004): This lowbrow high-concept movie about two stoners’ quest for White Castle sliders is best remembered not for it’s rather sly and subtle statement about the state of race in America. No, this film really belongs to Neil Patrick Harris and his all-in performance as, well, a fairly fictionalized version of Neil Patrick Harris. It’s terrifically crude and completely over-the-top, but it’s also very, very funny.


ALIAS JESSE JAMES (1959): This Bob Hope comedy stars the master comedian as an insurance salesman in the Old West who, perhaps unwisely, sells a policy to Jesse James. Problems arise when James robs him and then sets him up to be gunned down in his place so he might collect the policy premium. This Jesse James was clearly not the heart-of-gold variety of outlaw.


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