7.7/10
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The Best Man (1964)

Approved | | Drama | 18 June 1964 (West Germany)
The two front runners for their party's presidential nomination, one principled and the other ruthless, vie for the former President's endorsement.

Director:

(as Franklin Schaffner)

Writer:

(screenplay)
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
... William Russell
... Joe Cantwell
... Mabel Cantwell
... Alice Russell
... Sheldon Bascomb
... President Art Hockstader
... Sue Ellen Gamadge
... Don Cantwell
... Dick Jensen
... Mahalia Jackson
... Howard K. Smith
... Gov. T.T. Claypoole
... Sen. Oscar Anderson
... Mrs. Claypoole (scenes deleted)
George Kirgo ... Speechwriter
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Storyline

Intellectual William Russell and down-to-earth Joe Cantwell are front runners for a party nomination that will almost certainly mean the Presidency. Cantwell is prepared to use anything to achieve his goal while Russell sees himself as a man of principle - though his philandering means he is relieved his wife is prepared to appear alongside him. Both men crucially need the support of the ailing President, and as the stakes become higher each team has to decide how dirty they are prepared to get. Written by Jeremy Perkins <jwp@aber.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Does The Best Man Always Get To The White House? See more »

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Official Sites:

MGM

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

18 June 1964 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Gore Vidal's The Best Man  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This feature film was adapted from a Broadway stage production by Gore Vidal that opened on 31st March 1960 at the Morosco Theatre in New York City where it ran for 520 performances until it closed on 8th July 1961. See more »

Goofs

During the roll call, the chairman of the Pennsylvania delegation begins his announcement by saying "Mr Chairman, the State of Pennsylvania....". Pennsylvania is actually a Commonwealth, and any leading politician would refer to it as such. See more »

Quotes

President Art Hockstader: Major Bascomb, do I understand by the way you are slowly beating around the bush, that Joe Cantwell was, what we used to call when I was a boy, a dee-generate?
Sheldon Bascomb: Yes, sir, Mr. President, sir. That's just what I mean.
William Russell: I don't believe it. No man with that awful wife and those ugly children could be anything but normal.
See more »

Crazy Credits

During the opening credits, a picture of every single U.S. President appears in order, from George Washington to Lyndon Johnson. See more »

Connections

Referenced in What's My Line?: Episode dated 13 September 1964 (1964) See more »

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User Reviews

 
To Hell with both of you!
19 February 2006 | by See all my reviews

Gore Vidal was a TV fixture during the Vietnam War era using his wild wit to lay low conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr. Vidal was also one of the most gifted and talented political playwrights of the period. "The Best Man" is one of his best works. Obviously Henry Fonda as Presidential hopeful William Russell represents the "egghead" Adlai Stevenson. Fonda even physically resembles Stevenson. Cliff Robertson as Presidential hopeful Joe Cantwell is a dead ringer for Richard Milhous Nixon. Ironically Robertson would use Hollywood politics to snatch the Oscar a few years later for "Charly."

There are several outstanding performances in this film. Fonda and Robertson have already been mentioned. Lee Tracy was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance as former President Art Hockstader who controls the nomination process at the party's national convention until cancer brings him down. This picture represented somewhat of a comeback for Tracy. While filming "Viva Villa!" in Mexico a drunk Tracy urinated from a balcony onto the heads of Mexican soldiers parading below leading to an international incident. It gave a whole new meaning to raining on someone's parade. Tracy, a truly distinguished actor, himself died of cancer a few years after "The Best Man" was released.

A few of the cast members noted for their comic talents give splendid dramatic readings. Shelley Berman plays a confused ex-soldier who accuses Joe Cantwell of having done a degenerate act while serving with him in the Aleutian Islands. Ann Sothern has the role of a busy body who thinks she's a king maker. Sexy Edie Adams (Ernie Kovac's widow) appears as Joe's wife hoping to be the future First Lady. And the great John Henry Faulk who was blacklisted in the 50's because of persons like Joe, fought and won, plays a corn pone Southern politician.

Don't miss the heavenly Mahalia Jackson, perhaps the best gospel singer of the 20th century, belting out an old spiritual at the opening of the convention. Her time on the screen is much too brief. Howard K. Smith doesn't have an acting problem since he plays himself but his appearance makes the convention seem more realistic. The entire cast makes a good showing. However, Kevin McCarthy is virtually wasted in the thankless role of Russell's campaign manager.

Gore Vidal writes with much wit and wisdom. There are subtle hints of humor from time to time that require the viewer's devout concentration. This is definitely not escapist type fare. The film analyzes American politics not just from the standpoint of 1960/64 but from the Republic's 200 plus year history. The revelations presented in "The Best Man" are just as true in the year 2006 and will be rerun to some extent during the Presidential conventions in the summer of 2008.

The ex-President Art Hockstader refers to the results of the convention as putting a king in the castle, a far cry from George Washington's views that being President was a civic duty. When asked if he should be called King, Washington replied, "No, Mr. President will do." We haven't had a Washington in the President's house since.


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