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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.


Franklin J. Schaffner (as Franklin Schaffner)


Gore Vidal (screenplay)

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


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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 <jwp@aber.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The Best Man is Dynamite See more »




Approved | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

18 June 1964 (West Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

Gore Vidal's The Best Man See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Millar/Turman Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


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 »


When Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson) enters the helicopter he sits in the right seat. When he exits, he exits from the left seat. See more »


President Art Hockstader: Oh well, the world's sure changed since I was politickin'. In those days, we had to pour God over everything like ketchup.
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?: Barbra Streisand (1964) See more »

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User Reviews

Politics In The Convention Era
5 February 2007 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

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.

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