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Having just watched this movie again, I realize with despair that it STILL has something valid to say, 33 years later! I think I would have really liked this movie in 1972, I certainly loved it a few years later when I saw it for the first time, but now it seems like an enduring classic. It is shot like a campaign is run - you feel the crushing emptiness of a political campaign, and Redford's frustration with being unable to raise actual issues is palpable. He is a contender mainly because of his looks (and family ties), not because of his beliefs. He has to boil them down to sound bites (not a term in 1972, I don't think) and then give some of them up altogether, all in order to win. The 'voters' don't come off too well, either - they seem like either groupies (young girls or older country club ladies) or disaffected losers. This should be shown in every 8th grade civics class!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WHEN ONE VIEWS this film, it is obvious that the spin is definitely
meant to favour the Left, Liberal or now called "Progressives." That is
quite obvious as the starring figure is portrayed by Mr. Robert
Redford, himself. The characterization of the incumbent Senator Jarmon
(Don Porter) is further evidence of our contention.
HOWEVWEE, HAVING JUST watched the movie on Turner Classic Movies, again after some years, we find that although there is this bias in evidence, they did do a good job in at least trying to maintain a high degree of neutrality in their portrayals. It appears that it is all too easy to dismiss this as being so one-sided toward the Left, rather than looking just a little bit deeper into the true nature of the story.
THE STORYLINE, SUCH as it is, follows the path that the young and otherwise naive son of a former California takes in becoming a candidate for the Senate. Bill McKay (Redford) at first begins his campaign as a sort of means of making a point about the present state of conditions in the USA. As he gets deeper into the run, he becomes influenced by the professional political operations of his campaign manager, Marvin Lucas(Peter Boyle), being supported by a fine collection of supporting players (Michael Lerner, Allen Garfield, Quinn Redeker, Morgan Upton, Kenneth Tobey and others).
GIVING WHAT MUST be described as a feeling and look of realism to the production is the inclusion of so many people from the entertainment world and its great subsidiary, the news people. There are also included the cameo appearances by real, true life political figures such as Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern.
IT IS ONLY at Film's end, when with McKay's ultimate victory in the General Election, do we realize what the true meaning of the story really is. And that would be: that the with American tradition of having our candidates vetted by the people, as interpreted by our press, it becomes much more a matter of show Biz, rather than a free exchange and debate of issues,. ideas and political principles.
AND THIS IS a powerful force that will transform people who seek office, whether they want it or not.
NOTE: Bill McKay's final fade out question to his campaign manager of "Marvin, what do I do now?" would appear to be a real, true slice of life. Years later, in 1979, a news camera caught the new Mayor-Elect of Chicago, Jane Byrne, asking the same question of an aid after addressing the press boys on her victorious election night.
Cynical young Bill McKay is encouraged to follow his father into
politics by running for the Senate against smooth longtime incumbent
Jarmon. Against his better judgment, the handsome McKay reluctantly
All in all, the movie shows the road to corruption without the corruption. True, we see McKay (Redford) drawn into the momentum of his Senate campaign under pressures of a large and harried staff. We know his early ideals are being slowly overridden, but crucially we never see the backroom deals that seal a fall from grace. We do see deal-maker Starkey (Tobey) meeting the candidate at a crucial election stage, but what exactly is understood between them is left unseen. Thus this inside look at our political process shows the colorful pomp but without the fateful circumstance.
And show the political spectacle, the movie does, in spades. I don't know how they did the many crowd and rally scenes, but the numbers and enthusiasm are convincing as heck. It's an excellently produced and directed effort.
Redford low-keys it all the way through. As the candidate, he's hardly the effusive glad-hander, but then, with his youthful good looks, he doesn't need to be. It's really Peter Boyle as the savvy campaign manager who projects. We also get a good look at the hectic pace and foul-ups that big time campaigns are subject to. Thus, it's no wonder that McKay slowly succumbs to the pressures of the contest that yield the movie's famous last line.
However, as a down and dirty look at the deal-making so crucial to electoral success, the movie only implies but doesn't show. Instead, focus is limited to McKay's "selling out", despite what he knows about the dirty business and his own better instincts. Thus the upshot amounts to the graphic undoing of one man but not of the process as a whole. Still, it's a very watchable production with lessons even for today.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Excellent film where a young, good looking attorney is nominated by the
Democrats for the governorship of California, opposing the Republican
who believes strongly in the typical Republican line of Herbert
The surprise in this film is Don Porter, a veteran character actor of television and the film, who gets the role of his life as the incumbent senator, ready to take on Bill McKay's (Redford)idea of A Better Way with McKay.
Peter Boyle shines as the political operative and we see all the preparations that go into the making of a candidate. We see a candidate who refuses to compromise on his views, while seeing better days ahead.
Only recently does it seem like the political world has been soiled by
entertainment media. HBO's "Veep", created by the satirically minded
Armando Iannucci, is a brutal comedy series that details the day to day
life of the vice president. Don't expect to see an all-American woman
pining for a better America, because you get a narcissist hungry for
power. Netflix's "House of Cards" makes politics seem as dirty as the
crime world, with elected officials offing enemies left and right,
utilizing corruption for the sake of unbridled authority.
In days past, there was something mystical about a candidate the one we loved (not the Nixon of the race) seemed to be a sort of god who could do no wrong. Look at JFK, FDR; they were far from perfect, but their image, their reputation, turned them into unspeakably untouchable icons. But it seems post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, America has turned into a hotbed of negativity. We don't trust our sacred politicians like we used to. And so "The Candidate" is more relevant than ever. In 1972, the U.S. was just starting to turn into a bunch of pessimists. But now, we regard many of our elected officials in the same way we do the villain of a political thriller: evil, devilishly evil. But smart.
"The Candidate" is part black comedy, part political drama, all stitched together by an endlessly scathing screenplay and a finely tuned performance from Robert Redford. It isn't so much an emotional film as it is a witty commentary regarding the election process, and how most candidates go from freshly idealistic to power hungry after a mere few months of campaigning. The film doesn't tap into our fears in the same way "All the President's Men" did, or how "Three Days of the Condor" told us not to trust anyone sitting in office. Rather, it serves as a thought-provoker that makes us wonder if the smiles governmental hopefuls put on display are actually genuine. It's a bleak, bleak, movie, not so much because it is starkly negative but because it prefers to think that getting elected is a popularity contest, not a case of may the best man win.
Redford plays Bill McKay, a 30-ish attorney who, on a whim, decides to run for Senate. Incumbent Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) is slated to win McKay, you see, has been approached by political specialist Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle), who only wants McKay to act as a Democratic figure, not as serious competition. Jarmon, after all, cannot run unopposed. McKay knows he has little by way of chance, but, knowing he has the opportunity to spread his ideals around the state, does everything he can to potentially find success. And as the son of the former governor (Melvyn Douglas), with, not to mention, good looks that have captured much of the female vote, his possibilities may be stronger than Lucas could have ever imagined. Problem is, if McKay really wants to win, he'll have to, in some ways, trade many of his morals in favor of popularity.
"The Candidate" is filmed as if it were a documentary, following McKay around until his positive nature completely breaks down and sardonic ickiness takes over. As the film begins, he is a charismatic intellect who has a way with words (he is a lawyer, after all). But by the end, he can hardly control himself from laughing attacks when faced with the bullsh-t of a television promotion. The more he campaigns, the more he becomes disgusted with the idea of politics the officials are snakes who know how to manipulate the public. Morals, he finds out, are of little importance to his peers. Sounding good, looking good, speaking well, being agreeable, going against the grain of the now-hated person he's trying to rob the job of those are the things that matter. You can forget about making the country a better place.
Larner's Academy Award winning screenplay hits all the right notes not mean but wicked, funny, but not overtly so. It isn't a comedy as much as it is a drama that realizes how ridiculous campaigning is, and it cackles along with McKay's increasing concerns. There is a great little scene that finds McKay in the back of a limo, reciting old lines from previous speeches. But after each sound bite he makes a sound of disgust, whether it be a gag, a cough, or a scoff. The sequence is subtle, yet it speaks volumes; have we gotten to a point in our election process where a particular quote, a particular fragment of a speech, matters more than the overall goal of a candidate?
The film also contains one of Redford's finest performances, capturing his distinctly everyman appeal while heightening the sly humor he can easily project just by uttering a single line. He is the kind of actor that can deliver a line like "We don't have sh-t in common" and still remain likable; he is the kind of actor that can look unfazed by the presence of a cameoing Natalie Wood and not seem like a complete jerk. In "The Candidate", we don't necessarily identify with him. Instead, we jump onto his back as he maneuvers through the jangling dishonesty of the election process.
Here is a movie more interested in saying something than showcasing how great its actors are, how great its direction is. "The Candidate" doesn't move you; it causes you to think. And as the race for the presidency continually heats up these days, it is compelling viewing that has hardly aged in what it has to say.
The Polished Veneer of Politics has Become Unvarnished Since this
"Insider" Uncovering Circa 1972. It was Much More Interesting, For
Sure, During it's Initial Release (now this stuff is common everyday
knowledge), But that Doesn't Mean that it is Irrelevant or Dated or
The Perfect Casting of Robert Redford as an Idealist Lawyer with No Interest in Politics is Recruited to Run for U.S. Senator and Convinced to do so Because He is Told that He Can Get His Ideas Heard and in The End..."You Lose".
Peter Boyle is Quite Good as the "King Maker" and the Media Machine Behind The Candidate is Convincingly Portrayed. In Fact the Whole Political Scene from the Early Seventies is Given Gravitas by the Screenplay Penned by Former Eugene McCarthy Speechwriter Jeremy Larner, and Received an Oscar for This Work.
Overall, it is a Bit Startling, but Maybe Not, that the Issues Presented in the Campaign are Still Debated and Divisive Today. Also, the Rules of the Game Haven't Changed That Much Either. The Preparation, the Concessions, the Presentation, the Do's and Don'ts are Pretty Much the Same Now as Forty Years Ago.
The Film was a Big Hit, a Liberal Wish Fulfillment During the Nixon Years and the Vietnam Era, but it Wasn't the Electorate or Electrifying Left Wing Candidates that Silenced (at least for a little while) the "Silent Majority". It was "Tricky Dicks" Dirty Tactics and the Cover-up and His Loathsome Vice President's (Spiro Agnew) Corruption.
"The Candidate" is a very simple movie. It follows a guy (Robert Redford) who is running for the Senate and you see him from agreeing to run to his eventual election. Throughout, the guy tries (not always successfully) to keep his idealism but there is a strong push by his handlers to get him to talk more and say less at the same time. This aspect of the story is very believable and this man is, more or less, relatively 'normal' and without any earth-shattering secrets or personal deficiencies. In fact, the film has little in the way of excitement--no 'bombshells', no real controversies--just a look at the political process and the men who handle these candidates. Certainly not a must-see film but well worth your time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was shown this in social studies class in my senior year in high
school decades ago. The liberal teacher used the movie to teach us how
real-life political candidates are developed, and he asked us questions
such as whether debates were truly useful except as publicizing
The story itself: Bill McKay, son of a former machine politician governor of California, is talked into running for the Democratic candidate for U. S. Senator by a campaign manager who has just come off a losing election of another candidate. The manager expects McKay to lose anyway, so he tells McKay to say whatever he wants since it won't make any difference.
But as the campaign goes on, the supposedly strong incumbent is vulnerable after all, and McKay wins the Democratic primary, and there is a serious chance McKay could really win the election. No longer can he just say what his beliefs are; he now has to draw in more voters who don't want a strong liberal. Solution: McKay has to be much more vague in answering questions (as directed by his managers), and to give generalized platitudes even his campaign team laugh at. He talks about unity and solving problems-but at the same time fails to tell the public what he intends to do about them. He wins anyway-and is confused as to what to do once he has the job.
While it is true that an empty suit can win an election (look at who our current President is), the movie's inherent problem is that the movie doesn't really give a reason that McKay should have won over the incumbent. Longtime incumbents normally lose if demographics change greatly or if they alienate their constituency in some way; the movie depicts nothing of the sort. Also, McKay shows little enthusiasm for running throughout the whole campaign; surely there are others who would have wanted the spot instead? Still, if nothing else, the best part of the story was where the campaign manager is told to take a chair-and he does so, literally.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is not bad for the first hour. It shows an independent man
being chosen, almost at random, to campaign to be a California
representative in the U.S. Senate. He is permitted to express, at the
beginning, his own independent views; but as he becomes more and more
popular his politics, his speeches begin to be more and more
circumscribed in order to allow him to gain political office. In other
words he starts to be a "real Politician" and tow the line in order to
The latter half of the movie seemed redundant to me it is just one long campaign trail with speeches and meetings with crucial individuals to gain popularity. It actually was somewhat boring. See Primary Colors for a more sordid close-up of the political process.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Candidate is a film starring Robert Redford. Its themes include how
the political machine corrupts and the need to dilute one's message to
win an election. There are many parallels between the 1970 California
Senate election between John V. Tunney and George Murphy, but Redford's
character, Bill McKay, is a political novice and Tunney was a seasoned
Congressman.The film was shot in Northern California in 1971. Peter
Boyle plays the political consultant Marvin Lucas. The screenplay was
written by Jeremy Larner, a speechwriter for Senator Eugene J. McCarthy
during McCarthy's campaign for the 1968 Democratic Presidential
nomination.Director Michael Ritchie and executive producer/star Robert
Redford satirically explore the machinations and manipulations of
media- age political campaigns in this cynical political drama.
Rumpled left-wing California lawyer Bill McKay, the son of a former governor, is enlisted by campaign maestro Marvin Lucas to challenge Republican incumbent Crocker Jarmon for his Senate seat. McKay agrees, but only if he can say exactly what he thinks. That approach is all well and good when McKay does not seem to have a chance, but things change when his honesty unexpectedly captivates the electorate. As McKay inches up in the polls, Lucas and company start to do what it takes to win, leaving McKay to ponder the consequences of his political seduction. Working without studio interference from a script by Jeremy Larner, a speechwriter for 1968 Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, Ritchie enhanced the behind-the-scenes realism of Larner's insights with a realistic, cinéma vérité approach. He orchestrated a campaign parade for "candidate" Redford that drew such a considerable unstaged audience that local politicians wanted to draft Redford for a real election.
The first and arguably the sharpest expose of the new media-determined American political process, The Candidate offers producer-star Redford one of his strongest dramatic roles; Michael Ritchei's cautionary tale became prophetic in its message.Also,Redford's resemblance to the telegenic Kennedys, and his character's resonance with the future career of California governor Jerry Brown, only emphasized how close to the bone The Candidate was (and is). Released the fateful year of Richard Nixon's reelection, the film garnered accolades, if not substantial box office; Larner won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and thanked the "politicians of our time" for inspiration.Creating a documentary fiction about the semi-truths manufactured to market a candidate, The Candidate shrewdly exposed the effects of the media on the increasingly cynical political process, posing unanswerable questions that have become all the more pressing with every soundbite-ruled election.
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