Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Best Man (1964)

William Russell (Henry Fonda) and Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson) are the leading candidates for the presidential nomination. Russell is a man with principles, an intellectual who at times can be indecisive. His marriage is strained by past sexual indiscretion he regrets, but his wife Alice (Margaret Leighton) chooses to support him. Cantwell portrays himself as a simple man, a man of the people. He is patriotic, anti-communist, stubborn and ruthless. Along with the full support of his wife, Mabel (Edie Adams), he will stop at nothing to get the nomination. Thus the trouble begins.

Both Russell and Cantwell depend upon the support of former President Art Hockstader (Lee Tracy). Though Hockstader prefers Russell, he thinks his indecisiveness and principles may get in the way of making the decisions needed as a President. Hockstader does not particularly like Cantwell, but he appreciates how tough he is and his willingness to do what it takes. After conversing with him, Russell realizes that Hockstader is going to support Cantwell. Having heard this, Dick Jensen (Kevin McCarthy), Russell’s campaign manager, decides without Russell’s knowledge, to make a call to a source he’s kept in the dark. Sheldon Bascomb (Shelley Berman) served in the military with Cantwell, and is willing to link him to homosexual activity while stationed together during World War II.Cantwell, because he is so ruthless, already has a file he illegally obtained on Russell that testifies to a nervous breakdown he had a few years back. With this damaging information, Cantwell, who assumes Hockstader will throw his support behind Russell, threatens to use it if Hockstader does not support him. Hockstader tells Cantwell that “he doesn't mind a bastard, but objects to a stupid one”, revealing that he was going to support him but will now switch to Russell. However, in his opening-night speech, he endorses neither.

As the hours count down towards the nomination, a healthy game of outmanuevering ensues as Russell refuses to use slander to win the campaign and Cantwell relies on it, not only with Russell, but with other senators and people of power that he’s gathered files on to use against them. It isn’t till minutes before the crucial decision is made that one of the candidates will take a shocking tactic to make sure the best man wins.

An absolutely riveting film from end to finish, The Best Man gives the audience a glimpse into the seedier side of politics, more importantly political manuevering. Complete with intelligent dialogue and scenes that flow smoothly, Fonda, Tracey (the whole reason I wanted to see this film), and Robertson are phenomenal. The supporting cast which also includes a very domineering Ann Sothern, is nothing to sneeze at either. Definitely a must see!

Tonight on TCM! Um...yes please!
Richard III (1955) A hunchbacked madman plots to make himself king of England. Dir: Laurence Olivier Cast: Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Claire Bloom.

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