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by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & The Assassination of Richard Nixon & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hirty-two years ago yesterday, an unemployed salesman named Samuel Bicke walked into Baltimore Washington International Airport with a gun strapped to his leg, carrying an attach & eacute; case rigged as a bomb. He planned to hijack an airliner and force the pilot to crash the plane into the White House in a spectacular assassination of President Richard Nixon. Let me repeat: He planned to crash a hijacked plane into an important symbolic building. In 1974.


Bicke's plan failed when his mental instability led him to panic at the gate. He shot the pilot, co-pilot and a passenger before being wounded by a security guard and ultimately taking his own life. The full extent of his plot was only revealed after audiotapes surfaced that Bicke had sent to luminaries including Leonard Bernstein. The Watergate scandal was at its height and Nixon's presidency would end just six months later, so Bicke and his folly slipped into the footnotes of history.


Late in 2004, director and co-writer Niels Mueller turned the final year of Bicke's life into a film starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Don Cheadle. As Bicke, the sincere but hapless salesman whose life slowly disintegrates, Penn is riveting. Things are looking up for him in 1973: he has a new job selling office furniture and can finally pay his business-owner brother and his estranged wife (Watts) the money that he owes them. But it all falls apart as events roll relentlessly forward, like an inevitable train wreck. Penn plays Bicke as an insecure dreamer who desperately wants to succeed and be accepted, yet who always does the wrong thing; he's na & iuml;ve, idealistic and painfully awkward, and he becomes increasingly unstable when he's frustrated at every attempt. He's a classic example of a guy who does all the wrong things for all the right reasons: the quiet, perennial loser whose life careens toward a tragic end.


The film evokes the malaise and disillusionment of the period, with vintage television news footage of Nixon and company never far away. Bicke's private world unravels in parallel with Nixon's public downfall, linking the men inextricably. But ultimately, power prevails; Nixon remains on the world's stage and Bicke is quickly forgotten. Until now.

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