The 1972 film that captured the cynicism and commoditization of American politicians, set against an insatiable media landscape. . . The Candidate resonates as a cultural clarion bell, now more than ever.
In the 1970s, Robert Redford starred in two seminal films about Politics, Power & the Media which are still considered gold standards in the industry: the better-known All The President’s Men and The Candidate, made four years earlier in 1972.
Redford is at the height of his physical beauty and intense star presence in the portrayal of young, idealist Bill McKay, son of career politician and former California governor, William Mckay (Melvyn Douglas). A grass-roots activist and liberal lawyer, McKay wants nothing to do with politics, until he’s approached by well known campaign manager, Marvin Lucas (wryly portrayed by veteran actor, Peter Boyle). Seems there’s no suitable candidate to run against stodgy, Republican incumbent Senator, Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) and for reasons which reveal themselves gradually, Bill McKay seems the perfect choice.
Much like the setup in the classic movie, The Producers, however, McKay is never supposed to win. So what unfolds is an exercise in futility which nonetheless turns into a serious campaign in which each player has his own personal agenda for winning, whatever winning may mean in the end. As McKay’s message, image and platform are massaged and shaped by his handlers, we watch as he resists both the impulse to surrender as well as the impulse to assert himself in the race completely, honestly and full-force. As the public begins to get excited about McKay- vis a vis strategically designed media opps – his popularity soars and he finds himself neck and neck with Jarmon as election day draws near. That signals a personal and professional conundrum no one saw coming.
The Candidate was one of the early films that Robert Redford both starred in and produced, in this case with producing partner, Michael Ritchie. It represents just the kind of smart, socially relevant mindset he would bring to countless other movie projects in the years to follow.
As the U.S. is trying to wrap its collective head around a volatile presidential candidate about whom there are still questions regarding his commitment to the campaign (and the country), I can’t help but look to The Candidate as the most relevant satire on the subject. The razor sharp script by Jeremy Larner, in the hands of Ritchie and Redford, brilliantly captures that perilous void between idealism and cynicism, winning and losing, and the mental gymnastics ‘balance bar’ that must be vaulted between them all. A modern classic.
The Candidate is presently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puCZrpCZPdw
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