The Candidate (1972) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Bill McKay is a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. He has no hope of winning, so he is willing to tweak the establishment.

  • Californian lawyer Bill McKay fights for the little man. His charisma and integrity get him noticed by the Democratic Party machine and he is persuaded to run for the Senate against an apparently unassailable incumbent. It's agreed he can handle it his own way, on his own terms. But once he's in the race and his prospects begin to improve, the deal starts to change.

  • Idealistic young lawyer Bill McKay (Robert Redford), thoroughly involved with civil rights, legal aid and ecology, agrees to run for the U.S. Senate - not to win, he tells himself, but to bring vital issues before the voters. He despises political deals and compromises, but when the possibility of victory overshadows what seemed like certain defeat, his integrity begins to weaken. A fascinating and dynamic character study showing all the inner conflicts of a decent man torn between his ambition and his conscience. It tells what it costs - emotionally, morally, financially - to run for public office, and conveys all the doubts, all the self deceptions and ultimately all the cynicism of a man who knows he has sold out for something he isn't sure he really wants. Oscar-winning screenplay by Jeremy Lardner.

  • Handsome Bill McKay is not his father's son, his father being former California Governor, John J. McKay. An idealistic civil rights lawyer, Bill believes the political process is all style over substance, and thus he can accomplish more for the people, many of those disenfranchised, in his role as lawyer than politician. For the upcoming midterm election, Bill is approached by strategist Marvin Lucas to contest the Democratic nomination for the California senate seat, the actual election against wildly popular Republican incumbent, Crocker Jarmon. Marvin is able to sell Bill, with his supportive wife Nancy at his side, on the idea as he can easily win the nomination, but has no chance of winning the actual election against Jarmon and thus he can freely speak his mind to the California electorate. Bill's biggest condition is that his father not be involved at all, Bill not wanting his father's legacy to overshadow any of his own messages. Unfortunately for Bill, McKay Sr. may influence Bill's campaign whether or not he is directly involved. What Bill did not account for is that he has to make a credible showing or else his own reputation as a human being may be in jeopardy. So as the polls continually change for the good or bad for Bill, he may buckle under the pressure to become what he didn't want to be in the first place. His entire life, including his marriage, may also be totally taken over by the campaign process until election day.

  • Without a candidate to run for the senate seat against admired Republican Crocker Jarmon campaign manager Marvin Lucas recruits leftist lawyer Bill McKay. McKay's appearance piques the public's interest, and gradually Lucas pushes McKay toward a more centrist message. As McKay's original and honest platform gets watered down, his popularity increases so much that he is running even with Jarmon as Election Day approaches.


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