For our movie night last night, Judy and I watched THE CANDIDATE (1972), a film that neither of us had ever seen. It's a very good movie but I cannot discuss the film without posting this SPOILER ALERT.
Robert Redford stars as Bill McKay, the son of former California governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas). Bill is a lawyer working on social justice causes and has no real ambition to enter politics. But opportunistic political operative Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle), convinces him to run as the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator against Republican incumbent Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). Lucas tells McKay he can't win so he can remain true to his core values and not sell out. He can say and do whatever he wants.
But as the campaign goes on, media specialist Howard Klein (Allen Garfield), starts crafting an image of McKay that finds widespread appeal. McKay wins the primary and becomes the candidate for the general election. As election day draws closer and closer, the polls show McKay gaining ground just as he starts to question the whole enterprise. He starts to sell out, make compromises and before you know it, he wins the election.
On election night, McKay's father tells him "son, you're a politician", which is just what he didn't want to hear. The film ends with McKay asking Lucas "what do we do now?" Since no one had ever actually believed that McKay could actually win the election, he's thrust into office totally unprepared to assume the title of United States Senator.
THE CANDIDATE is as fresh, topical and relevant today as it was 43 years ago. The media depicted in the film may be a thing of the past but the politics, campaigns and manufacturing of candidates are not. Redford is terrific as McKay, with solid support from Boyle and Douglas. Don Porter's Crocker Jarmon sounds just like any one of the eleventy-seven Republican presidential candidates who are currently in the race.
The film is capably directed by Michael Ritchie with an Oscar winning screenplay by Jeremy Larner, One minor quibble: an extra-marital affair between McKay and an unnamed young woman (who is seen several times throughout the film) is implied but never actually shown. It's a potential source of drama and conflict that's never developed and has no bearing on the narrative so why bother to drop those hints?
THE CANDIDATE is a top notch film that is well worth seeing, especially as we head into an election year. Highly recommended.