Thursday, October 3, 2013

Five Film Favorites: Insider Looks at American Politics

by F.T. Rea

It has always taken a certain type of personality to hear the call to run for political office. 

Today is Day Three of the USA's first federal government shutdown since the record-setting 21-day shutdown of Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996. Of course, how it got to this unhappy point in 2013 depends on who tells the story. But it’s safe to say the personalities of today’s wielders of power inside the beltway have played significant roles in this year’s impasse.

While the particulars of such confrontations change over the years, the sort of people who absolutely must be in positions to decide what governments ought to/ought not to do doesn’t change all that much from one generation to the next.

So, with the day for Virginia voters to chose a new governor less than five weeks away, this is a good time to look at how films have presented such office-seekers and the so-called "sausage factories" in which they do their jobs ... when they do their jobs. 

Which means the movies on this week’s list aren’t so much about social causes or tides of history; no revolutions, no big wars. The films on the list below are about politicians and the people one generally finds surrounding them.

These pictures are about campaigners and deal-makers and back-stabbers. What these flicks have in common is their behind-the-scenes looks at the machinery of politics and the strong personalities of the people pushing the buttons and pulling the levers.
  • “All the King’s Men” (1949): B&W. 110 minutes. Directed by Robert Rossen. Cast: Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek. Mercedes McCambridge. Note: Adapted from the novel with the same title, the story follows the phenomenal rise of Willie Stark, a populist campaigner fashioned after a real Depression Era politician -- Louisiana’s Huey P. Long (1893-1935). It is seen through the eyes of a political reporter who goes to work for Stark and eventually cringes as unchecked power overcomes and corrupts his boss.
  • “Bob Roberts” (1992): Color. 102 minutes. Directed by Tim Robbins. Cast: Tim Robbins, Giancarlo Esposito, Alan Rickman, Gore Vidal. Note: Affecting the style of a documentary, the story is set in 1990. The character of Bob Roberts, played by Robbins, first appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1986. The movie’s story is focused on the take-no-prisoners, kick-in-the-door quest of Roberts, a wealthy folk-singer/conservative politician, to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
  • “The Candidate” (1972): Color. 110 minutes. Directed by Michael Ritchie. Cast: Robert Redford, Peter Boyle, Melvin Douglas, Allen Garfield. Note: A spin doctor talks the son of a popular governor into running for the U.S. Senate, to unseat a Republican incumbent. The original idea is he can say whatever he likes, because he has no chance to win ... or was it? When events change the odds, the temptation to compromise and tone down his message starts to build on the idealistic candidate.

  • “House of Cards” (2013): Color. 13 60-minute episodes. Directors: James Foley, Allen Coulter,David Fincher, Carl Franklin, Charles McDougall, Joel Schumacher. Cast: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Kristen Connolly, Kate Mara, Sakina Jaffrey, Corey Stoll. Note: Don’t like putting a mini-series on the list; especially one made-for-the-Internet. But this outrageously cynical 13-episode soap opera is just too damn good to leave it off.
  • “The Last Hurrah” (1958): B&W. 121 minutes. Directed by John Ford. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Jeffrey Hunter, Dianne Foster, Pat O‘Brien, Basil Rathbone. Note: With times a-changing, Democrat Frank Skeffington, a 72-year-old big city machine politician, runs for reelection as mayor. His opponent is an empty suit with a pleasant face who is an WWII vet. The effect of the new propaganda medium, television, is explored. In its time, this was seen as a story about a real Boston mayor -- James Michael Curley.  
Yes, I left "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), a movie I love, off the list. Sorry, I just wasn't in the mood today to include it. Put it on your own list, if you like. And, comments are (almost) always welcomed.

1 comment:

  1. I nominate and vote (several times) for The Great McGinty by the great Preston Sturges.