The 2 front runners for their party's presidential nomination, one principled and the other ruthless, vie for the former President's endorsement.


Franklin J. Schaffner (as Franklin Schaffner)


Gore Vidal (screenplay)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win & 4 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Henry Fonda ... William Russell
Cliff Robertson ... Joe Cantwell
Edie Adams ... Mabel Cantwell
Margaret Leighton ... Alice Russell
Shelley Berman ... Sheldon Bascomb
Lee Tracy ... President Art Hockstader
Ann Sothern ... Sue Ellen Gamadge
Gene Raymond ... Don Cantwell
Kevin McCarthy ... Dick Jensen
Mahalia Jackson ... Mahalia Jackson
Howard K. Smith ... Howard K. Smith
John Henry Faulk ... Gov. T.T. Claypoole
Richard Arlen ... Sen. Oscar Anderson
Penny Singleton ... Mrs. Claypoole (scenes deleted)
George Kirgo George Kirgo ... Speechwriter


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 {J-26}

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The Best Man is Dynamite See more »




Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Features Lee Tracy's only Oscar nominated performance. See more »


As Cantwell is chasing Bascomb out the door of the basement fallout shelter. Bascomb runs into one of the stacks of water ration cans. Those cans held five gallons of water (8.34 pounds per gallon) and weighed approximately 42 pounds each. When they were hit they had a decided hollow sound, like they were empty, just props. Although now long turned stale, many of these rations remain tucked away in forgotten lower areas of buildings to this day. No one stores and stacks empty water cans. See more »


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 »


Referenced in What's My Line?: Jerry Herman & Henry Fonda (1964) See more »

User Reviews

political movie of the era
18 July 2016 | by SnoopyStyleSee all my reviews

In a Presidential convention, William Russell (Henry Fonda) and Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson) are the leading candidates. Russell is a principled intellectual with personal issues that could haunt him. His estranged wife Alice is supportive publicly. Cantwell is a populist on the outside, and a ruthless opportunist on the inside. His wife is superficial. They struggle for the endorsement of the departing President Art Hockstader. Cantwell threatens to Hockstader that he would release Russell's secret psychiatric hospital records. In his all important speech, Hockstader doesn't give a direct endorsement throwing the convention open. He has concerns about Russell but vows to stop Cantwell.

This is a political movie of the era. The main characters are referencing politicians of the time. It loses a little with the passage of time. Fonda and Robertson are exceptional. Writer Gore Vidal injects the movie with plenty of behind the scenes realism. It is more real than most political thrillers of that era.

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Release Date:

6 April 1964 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Gore Vidal's The Best Man See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

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