The other party is in disarray. Five men vie for the party nomination for president. No one has a majority as the first ballot closes and the front-runners begin to decide how badly they want the job. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ronald Reagan was rejected for a role in this film because a studio executive didn't think he had "that presidential look." See more »
When Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson) is watching the convention floor on TV monitors and talking on a walkie-talkie he is holding a coffee cup in his right hand when the shot is of his back but it disappears when the shot is from the front. See more »
The Best Man in a sense was dated before it ended its Broadway run of 520 performances in the 1960-1961 season. John F. Kennedy with his string of primary victories had the nomination almost decided before the Democrats met in Los Angeles that year to nominate him. After that, money raised and spent wisely in primaries decided nominations in both parties long before the conventions met. The last convention where there was a semblance of a contest was the 1976 Republican convention where it was not certain until the balloting that Gerald R. Ford would be the GOP candidate.
This film takes us back to the era of the smoke filled room although candidate Cliff Robertson pointedly tells former president Lee Tracy that he does not smoke. We've got two candidates at this fictional Democratic convention circa the sixties. One is Henry Fonda former Secretary of State, an intellectual in politics modeled on Adlai E. Stevenson and Cliff Robertson a no nonsense street fighter of a U.S. Senator that Joe McCarthy was the prototype.
By the way back in those days Joe McCarthy could easily have been a Democrat. Note that Robertson has the support of the lily white south in the era before the civil rights revolution. Minor candidate John Henry Faulk, a southern governor, is most concerned about mandated integration of his state's public schools. Back then the Dixie part of this country had a big influence in the Democratic party, the Republicans were almost moribund in many southern states. But they were a growing force.
Neither Fonda or Robertson really understands the motivations of the other. They're both courting the support of Lee Tracy a former Truman like president. In actual fact, Truman counted for very little once he was out of the White House. He anointed no successor in 1952 and in 1956 and 1960 his candidates were W. Averill Harriman and Stuart Symington respectively and both came up very short.
Fonda and Robertson both have dirt of varying degrees on the other. Fonda's dirt is supplied by former army buddy of Robertson's Shelley Berman who says that Robertson was gay. As it turns out Robertson ratted out a bunch of gay men in the service and got smeared in retaliation with the label. That sad to say has not changed even with don't ask don't tell in the Defense Department.
Fonda and Robertson's roles on Broadway were played by Melvyn Douglas and Frank Lovejoy. Lee Tracy who was the only carry over from Broadway, won a Tony Award and was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Peter Ustinov for Topkapi. Tracy's is a finely etched portrayal of a bitter old man now out of real power and seeing his power to control events slipping by. Made even more bitter by the fact that he reads the characters of Fonda and Robertson very well, but can't influence either.
Gore Vidal aided in the transition of his play to the screen and it survived the journey from Broadway none the worse for wear. It's a fascinating look at a bygone era of politics when the national conventions meant something as opposed to being the media shows they are today.
In which we hope then as now that The Best Man will win out.
17 of 19 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?