Things were so good for making movies in the Golden Age of the early 1970s that a lot of things that should have been unwatchable were pretty good. That's the case with this week's movie, The Candidate. I'm not sure how well-known this one is, these days; I rarely see it on TV, but it does get a fair number of references from political junkies. They were going to do a remake, but there's very little on it at imdb, and I suspect it may have stalled.
Let's see...as a movie, it's pretty good. The best thing about it is a complete cheat -- even though the father/son plot with Bill McCay Jr. and Sr. forces you to think about Pat and Jerry Brown, you never for one minute forget that it's Robert Redford that you're watching. I like Redford as an actor, but here he does the old movie star thing of playing himself, movie star as much as he is playing a separate character. They play with that, not only in the silly scene where he meets Natalie Wood (playing herself, as opposed to him playing himself-as-a-politician), but also when he feigns ignorance of his secret asset, which goes unspoken -- in the logic of the movie, it's his sex appeal, but we all know that it's that he's Robert Redford. The supporting cast (Melvyn Douglas, Don Porter) are good fun, and Peter Boyle is terrific as the political consultant. Political junkies who haven't revisited this movie for a couple decades will enjoy the cameos by real politicians, and Californians will enjoy the cameos by California media types. At least if you're old enough to remember them. Also, Schneider shows up.
That gets us to the politics. The character Boyle plays is supposed to reveal the cynical core of mercenary political consultants, but what we're shown is either dated, overly cynical, or just wrong. I don't think it tells us anything about political professionals. Conservatives will have a problem with The Candidate, because you're supposed to just assume that liberal Democrats are the good guys. Crocker Jarmon, the Republican candidate, is a great foil, but I could see Republicans being annoyed.
They should watch the movie anyway, because of what it does bring us: a wonderful portrayal of the damage that campaigning does to the candidate. Basically, running for office hollows Bill McCay out and drives him mad. I've never been up close, day-to-day, with a candidate at that level, but I've seen enough of it up close at lower levels -- and read enough accounts of campaigns -- to find it absolutely accurate. Well, I don't think they're all driven mad, but I do think that the process candidates have to go through in order to run mass media campaigns is at least a little nuts. Smile, stay on message, repeat the speech, act as if you're the best of friends, and then repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. Bob Dole, a great Senator, couldn't do it, and was absolutely fried by the national press for his inability. Even the ones who really mastered it -- Reagan, Clinton, Obama -- are liable to being bashed the minute things start to slip at all.
So, enjoy the movie, enjoy Peter Boyle but don't think that real consultants are like that, and get a bit of insight into the lives of politicians. Solid recommend.