Politico’s Ben Smith joked Monday that Charles Mee’s 1980 novel, The Ohio Gang—about President Warren G. Harding’s friends who corrupted his administration and caused at least one suicide and jail time—would make for an “unlikely thriller.” But Mee’s book, which a television producer plans to turn into a movie called Unscrupulous, isn’t the only Harding-related project in the works.
Warner Brothers is also working on an adaptation of Glenn David Gould’s Carter Beats the Devil, the author’s debut novel about a 1920s magician who may be responsible for Harding’s premature death by way of a spectacularly nasty magic trick. The project has been bumping around Hollywood for a while, but with director Alexander Payne—who has specialized in tart political satires but may be looking to move into more epic territory—interested in the project, its chances may be better.
Harding isn’t such a shocking choice for a movie subject: The spectacular corruption of his administration, most notably the bribery scandal over the Teapot Dome oil fields on public land, offers directors and writers an opportunity to play with the ideas of Washington downfall without having to delve too deeply into contemporary politics. If you want to say corruption’s bad without saying Republicans caused it and pointing to Jack Abramoff, it’s a lot easier to look to the past. Unfortunately for fans of Washington filming, much of the action for the sexier of the two films, Carter Beats the Devil, takes place in San Francisco and exotic locations outside the country. We’ll just have to content ourselves with the magic-free scandal—and with Charles Mee adaptations here in Washington.