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Guarding Tess is a 1994 American comedy-drama film starring Shirley MacLaine and Nicolas Cage, directed by Hugh Wilson. MacLaine plays a fictional former First Lady protected by an entourage of Secret Service agents led by one she continually exasperates (Cage).

Guarding Tess
Guarding Tess 1994.jpg
Original poster
Directed byHugh Wilson
Produced by
Written by
Music byMichael Convertino
CinematographyBrian J. Reynolds
Edited bySidney Levin
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
March 11, 1994 (1994-03-11)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million
Box office$27,058,304

The film is set in Somersville, Ohio (played by Parkton, Maryland[1]) and nominated for a Golden Globe award in 1995 (Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical: Shirley MacLaine).


Doug Chesnic is a Secret Service agent who takes great pride in his job, performing his duties with the utmost professionalism. His assignment for the last three years has been a severe test of his patience. Doug is in charge of a team stationed in Ohio to protect Tess Carlisle, the widow of a former U.S. President.

Tess is well known for her diplomatic and philanthropic work, but seems to regard Doug less as a security officer and more as a domestic servant—not unlike her chauffeur, Earl, or her nurse, Frederick.

Doug regards it as beneath his professional dignity to perform little chores around the house or bring Tess her breakfast in bed. Tess orders him to do so, even to fetch her ball during a round of golf. When Doug defies her, Tess contacts a close friend - the current President of the United States – to express her displeasure. The annoyed President - under the impression Doug is substandard - chastises him by phone.

Doug's assignment with Tess comes to an end, so he is eager to be given a more exciting and challenging assignment. Tess decides that she wants him to stay, and Doug's assignment is extended.

The bickering between Doug and Tess continues, even in the car. While alone with Earl, Tess orders him to drive off, stranding her bodyguards. A humiliated Doug must phone the local sheriff—not for the first time—to be on the lookout for her. He fires Earl when they return, but Tess countermands that decision.

After returning from a hospital checkup, Tess watches old television footage of her husband's funeral, concentrating on a momentary glimpse of Doug among the mourners, overcome with grief. She makes an effort to get on his good side, sharing a drink and a late-night conversation. She explains that she is not close to her children, in part due to the awkward upbringing they had as political family. Morale for the agents improves when Tess tells them that the President will be visiting her late husband's presidential library, but his subsequent cancellation lowers her spirits.

Tess is kidnapped. While the FBI takes charge of the investigation, Doug and his security detail are informed that Mrs. Carlisle's recent dizzy spells are caused by an inoperable brain tumor. As the investigation begins without him, Doug finds evidence of Earl being involved. In Earl's hospital room, where the chauffeur was taken after claiming to be rendered unconscious by the abductors, Doug threatens to shoot off Earl's toes, one by one, until he confesses to an FBI agent where Mrs. Carlisle is being held. Doug goes so far as to shoot one toe.[2] Earl admits that Mrs. Carlisle is being held captive by Earl's sister and her husband.

The FBI and Secret Service raid the kidnappers' home and arrest them. When they find Mrs. Carlisle buried, but alive, beneath the floor of the farmhouse, Doug and his agents volunteer to do the digging. Tess then insists that her Secret Service detail accompany her to the hospital.

Upon being released from the hospital, Tess refuses to obey the hospital rule that patients must be discharged in a wheelchair. Doug tells her, using her first name for the first time, "Tess, get in the God damn chair." After a brief pause, Tess complies, pats Doug's hand and says, "Very good, Douglas."



Guarding Tess received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 57% rating based on 35 reviews.[3] The Washington Post described it as derivative of other recent films Driving Miss Daisy (1989), The Bodyguard (1992), and In the Line of Fire (1993), and decries "the melodramatic turnaround that sabotages the last section of the movie", but describes "the comic tension between MacLaine and Cage" as being "so well done, it doesn't matter how dumb things get".[4]


  1. ^ "Parkton Community Profile", ePodunk
  2. ^ Guarding Tess Script Scriporama
  3. ^
  4. ^ Howe, Desson (March 11, 1994). "Guarding Tess". The Washington Post.

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