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The DVD Report #240

George Clooney’s political drama, The Ides of March, newly released on DVD, is the latest in a long line of films dealing with American political campaigns.

A timely film, it centers on a fictitious campaign in which dirty tricks abound. Ryan Gosling is the idealistic staffer for George Clooney as a sitting Governor seeking his party’s Presidential nomination. Second in command to Clooney’s veteran campaign manager, Philip Seymour Hoffman, he is tempted to join the opposition when made an offer by Hoffman’s counterpart, Paul Giamatti. An untimely death and the threat of a scandal loom large in the resolution of the plot.

Although the film really offers nothing new, it’s well acted and worth seeing for the performance alone. It’s available on both DVD and Blu-ray from Sony.

Among past hits concerning U.S. political campaigns now available on DVD are such films as Abe Lincoln in Illinois; State of the Union; All the King’s Men; The Last Hurrah; Sunrise at Campobello; Advise and Consent; The Best Man; The Candidate; All the President’s Men and Milk.

Raymond Massey was so into his role as Abraham Lincoln in Broadway’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois that he famously signed autographs during the run of the show as the 16th President rather than as himself. No wonder then that he is so authentic in his Oscar nominated performance in the 1940 film that he was asked to play the character in numerous subsequent films and TV presentations.

One of the highlights of the film is the Lincoln-Douglas debates between Massey’s Lincoln and Gene Lockhart’s Douglas. Ruth Gordon also registers strongly as Mary Todd Lincoln.

One of the most authentic film biographies, it’s available from the Warner Archive.

Claudette Colbert’s health issues forced her out of Frank Capra’s 1948 film, State of the Union, allowing Katharine Hepburn to star opposite Spencer Tracy in what became their fifth film together.

Tracy is being recruited for the Presidency by a conglomerate of special interests including Angela Lansbury’s sophisticated newspaper publisher who becomes Hepburn’s rivals for husband Tracy’s affections.

Although not one of Capra’s or Hepburn-Tracy’s best, it is a notable film primarily for Lansbury’s scintillating performance as they “other woman”, made when she was just 22 years old.

It’s available on DVD from Universal.

Based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, 1949’s Best Picture Oscar winner, All the King’s Men, is a thinly disguised biography of Louisiana’s notorious governor Huey P. Long. Broderick Crawford had his greatest screen role in his Oscar winning portrayal of the power hungry politician, renamed Willie Stark in the novel and film. Mercedes McCambridge, another Oscar winner, makes a startling screen debut as his loyal secretary. The film features numerous political campaigns, all of them quite nasty.

Although the film doesn’t seem as powerful to modern audiences as it did in its day it’s still worth seeking out and is much more fascinating than its recent remake. It’s available on DVD from Columbia.

John Ford’s Irish humor is in abundance inThe Last Hurrah, his 1958 film of Edwin O’Connor’s marvelous 1956 novel about the long-time mayor of a fictional New England city, obviously meant to be Boston.

A suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept that Spencer Tracy, the mayor, Pat O’Brien and James Gleason, his cronies, and Donald Crisp, the city’s Roman Catholic Cardinal, were boys together. Tracy, born in 1900 and O’Brien, born in 1899, were boyhood friends in real life, but Gleason and Crisp were eighteen years their senior, both having been born in 1882. Gleason was O’Brien’s, and later Tracy’s, mentor in real life. Nevertheless it works, as do the performances of Jeffrey Hunter as Tracy’s nephew; Basil Rathbone and John Carradine as members of the city’s elite and marvelous Jane Darwell as an old lady who shows up at everyone’s wake talking about how good the deceased looks.

The film, which is about Tracy’s character’s last election, is a treasure from start to finish and is available on DVD from Columbia.

The emphasis in 1960’s Sunrise at Campobello is on Franklin Roosevelt’s recovery from polio, but the film ends with him standing at the podium introducing Al Smith, the Democratic Party’s candidate for President in 1928 four years before Roosevelt ran himself. Ralph Bellamy, who had played Tracy’s role in the Broadway production of State of the Union this time gets to repeat his Tony award winning portrayal of FDR while Greer Garson received her seventh Oscar nomination for essaying the role of Eleanor Roosevelt. It’s a well-made film and definitely should be seen for those two great starring performances.

It’s available from the Warner Archive.

Allen Drury’s 1959 novel, Advise and Consent was the last number one bestseller of its day to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize as the year’s best novel. Otto Preminger’s 1962 film is a faithful transcription of the novel about a beleaguered U.S. President’s attempt to have his choice for Secretary of State approved. The superlative cast includes Henry Fonda as the candidate; Walter Pidgeon as the Senate majority leader; Charles Laughton as a wily Southern senator; Don Murray as a naïve new Senator; Franchot Tone as the President; Lew Ayres as the Vice President and Gene Tierney as a Washington hostess. The very British Laughton, who died in December of the year of the film’s release, would have been amused by his posthumous Bafta nomination for “Best Foreign Actor”.

The film is available on DVD from Warner Bros.

Fonda is back, this time as a Presidential candidate with Cliff Robertson as his chief rival in a brokered convention in 1964’s The Best Man. Lee Tracy returns to the screen for the first time in fifteen years and steals the show as a cantankerous former President obviously modeled after Harry Truman, receiving an Oscar nomination for his efforts in this trenchant adaptation of Gore Vidal’s play. Ann Sothern also manages to steal a few scenes of her own as a loquacious party-giver.

It’s available from MGM’s movies-on-demand.

Modern politics are mercilessly tweaked in 1972’s The Candidate which received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Robert Redford has the title role as the resistant at first U.S. Senate candidate from California. Still pertinent today, it’s available on DVD from Warner Bros.

Redford and Dustin Hoffman are unforgettable as Woodward and Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who uncovered the details of the Watergate scandal that toppled President Nixon in 1976’s All the President’s Men. Jason Robards as Post editor Sam Bradlee is the standout in a remarkable supporting cast for which he won a richly deserved Oscar as the year’s Best Supporting Actor.

Although the story is well known, how they got it still makes for a riveting suspense-filled drama and is a great sit-through no matter how many times you’ve seen it. It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Bros.

More recent history, albeit still history from more than thirty years ago, is recounted in Gus Van Sant’s 2008 film, Milk, for which Sean Penn won his second Best Actor Oscar as Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay politician. The film effortlessly swings back and forth between Milk’s personal life and his political activism, ending in his well-publicized assassination as well as that of San Francisco’s mayor at the hand of a fellow City Council member. Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna also excel. It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal.

This week’s new DVD releases include the long-awaited first official U.S. release of Wings, the first Oscar winner, as well as the Blu-ray debuts of three of Alfred Hitchcock’s best, Rebecca; Spellbound and Notorious and two of Woody Allen’s best, Annie Hall and Manhattan.

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