Cast & Crew
After managing an unsuccessful senatorial campaign in the Midwest, Marvin Lucas flies to California to convince legal aid activist Bill McKay to run for the senate against the "unbeatable" Republican incumbent, Crocker Jarmon. Lucas, who enjoys the money and perks that come with managing a political campaign, drives to San Diego to meet Bill, the handsome, privileged son of former California governor John J. McKay. Estranged from his father, Bill proclaims that he hates politics and is not interested in running for anything, but his wife Nancy enthusiastically suggests that Bill has both the looks and the power to be a successful candidate. Lucas assures the skeptical Bill that he will have the perfect platform to get out his social and political message without encumbrance and writes his guarantee on the inside cover of a matchbook, "You lose." After attending a Republican rally, at which the slick Jarmon sarcastically denounces various liberal causes, Bill realizes that he wants to run and later announces his candidacy to a small group of reporters. Bill impresses the reporters with his candor and lack of political doubletalk, especially when he expresses unequivocal support for controversial issues such as busing and welfare. When Lucas introduces Bill to Howard Klein, a successful campaign and media advisor who tells Bill to get a haircut and dress more conservatively, Bill laughs off the importance of a new image, but complies. Initially, Bill is self-conscious shaking hands with strangers and awkward speaking before the small crowds who come to see him. Gradually, though, he becomes more comfortable with the crowds and the press, and his support starts to grow, especially among young, female voters who are attracted to his boyish good looks. As the campaign progresses, Bill begins to make small compromises, usually at Lucas' or Klein's urging, and easily wins the June Democratic primary, in which he ran unopposed. Because their goal is to lose, Bill does not see it as a problem when Lucas reveals that current polls project that he will receive only 32 percent of the vote in the general election, but Lucas lashes out at Bill, convincing him that a complete thrashing in November would make them both laughingstocks. Some time later, as they are about to fly from Los Angeles to San Diego, a campaign aide informs Lucas that there is a fire in the hills above Malibu, prompting Lucas to whisk Bill from the plane and drive toward the perimeter of the fire. Lucas is sure that Bill will have a golden opportunity to discuss his policies on environmental issues like over-development, watersheds and federal disaster insurance, but before Bill can speak to the press, they are distracted by Jarmon's arrival in a helicopter. The senator quickly takes charge, announcing that he has arranged for Malibu to be declared a federal disaster area and will soon introduce legislation on watersheds and federal disaster insurance, measures that he previously had opposed. When Bill approaches Jarmon to say that he wants to debate, Jarmon dismisses him with a perfunctory "sure you do, son," and quickly flies away. Continuing on the campaign trail, Bill makes some headway, but not enough to impress Lucas. Upon learning that a story is about to break that John J. endorses Jarmon, Lucas finally convinces Bill to approach his father. At John J.'s mountain retreat, Bill and his politically astute father are distant with each other, but Bill swallows his pride and asks John J. for a public statement of support. Soon an announcement is made that John J. fully endorses Bill and denies rumors that he ever supported Jarmon. As the election nears, crowds and support for Bill begin to swell, just as he and Nancy, who has been enthusiastic about the prospect of Bill's election, are becoming estranged from each other and argue over how much their private life has to be exposed to the public. As Bill begins to act more like other politicians, his standings in the polls rise, but many of his old friends turn against him for "selling out." Then prominent ABC television news anchor Howard K. Smith delivers a scathing on-air editorial criticizing him for dropping his once-fresh approach in favor of selling himself like laundry detergent. Stung, Bill goes to Lucas to talk, but Lucas is distracted by new polling numbers showing that Jarmon's lead in the race has been reduced to eight percentage points and the news that the now-worried Jarmon has agreed to a debate. On the evening of the televised debate, Bill initially falters and appears too young and inexperienced against the more seasoned Jarmon, but a last-minute exchange in which Bill deviates from Klein's scripted advice, leaves Jarmon appearing flustered and angry. After the debate, Bill is hurt when Jaime, a former office mate, refuses to speak to him, and another friend, Wilson, says that he understands what Bill is trying to do. Just then, a jubilant John J. leads a group of reporters over to Bill and gives him an enthusiastic handshake, telling him that he is now a politician. By the time of the election, Bill has turned into a slick candidate, even making a political deal to gain support from an old crony of his father, union boss Starkey. Preparing for bed the night before the election, Bill wistfully looks at the matchbook on which Lucas wrote "You lose." On election day, Bill and Nancy vote early in the morning, smiling before the cameras, just as a worried Jarmon and his wife do the same. All day, Bill's young, eager campaign volunteers work to get the vote out, despite the constant rain, and that night, as election returns show that Bill is starting to take the lead, his San Francisco campaign headquarters becomes the scene of a jubilant party. When television newscasters finally announce that Bill has been elected, he feels isolated and pleads with the elated Lucas for a moment alone. While Nancy, Klein and others talk about the success of the campaign and living in Washington, Bill has only a few moments alone with Lucas to ask, "Marvin, what do we do now?" before a crowd of joyous supporters swarm into the room.
Robert De Anda
Senator Alan Cranston
Senator Hubert H. Humphrey
Assemblyman Walter Karabien
Senator George Mcgovern
Assemblyman Robert Moretti
Senator John V. Tunney
Mayor Sam Yorty
Assemblyman Ken Cory
Senator Fred Harris
Howard K. Smith
Congressman Jerry Waldie
Jesse M. Unruh
Hobie, The Dog
Pat Harrington Jr.
Ronald De Fanti
Roy De La Motte
Donna De Varona
Richard A. Harris
Victor J. Kemper
Norman C. Miller
Joseph P. Rotter
Roger Shearman Jr.
Mary Van Houten
Patrizia Von Brandenstein
Doug Von Koss
Best Writing, Screenplay
According to the Redford biographers Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell, the actor was inspired to make a film about the political process while watching the 1968 political conventions and becoming frustrated at the way campaigns had become a pageant. He took the idea, still no more than a concept, to director Michael Ritchie (he had directed Redford in Downhill Racer , Redford's debut feature as a producer). Ritchie was intrigued by the idea and they approached Jeremy Larner, a top speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy in his 1968 presidential bid, to write the screenplay. Larner had become disillusioned by the campaign (he wrote about it in his book Nobody Knows) and poured much of his frustration and disappointment into the screenplay, which is light on character definition but rich with details on the way campaigns are run, speeches are vetted and issues are negotiated. "The scenes between the campaign manager and the political commercial producer ought to be classified material," quipped co-star Melvyn Douglas, a politically savvy veteran in his own right.
Party affiliations are only vaguely invoked, but it doesn't take a degree in political science to peg McKay, a man focused on social welfare and racial and sexual equality, as the liberal Democrat interest and veteran Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) as the glad-handing, big-business friendly Republican. It also becomes increasingly clear just why the party finds the aggressively progressive McKay such an attractive candidate. He's not only young and passionate and photogenic, but he's also the son of a powerful retired politician, former state Governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas). "He's got the name, the looks and the power," remarks his wife, Nancy (Karen Carlson), who all too easily slips into the role of candidate's wife. And she's right, which seems to bother McKay more than anything else. Though he really believes in his campaign motto "A Better Way," he increasingly allows his handlers to shape it through the same old political methods and turn the phrase into a mere slogan.
Redford's performance anchors the film. McKay's frankness, his personability, his lack of polish and pat doublespeak appeals to a public jaded by political glibness, and his engagement with such issues as poverty and unemployment and the environment and social equality excite young and progressive voters. As his numbers rise, however, the political machine tries to steer him away from inflammatory issues like abortion and bussing. McKay bristles at these compromises yet he makes them, only occasionally stepping off message to bring up controversial social issues. Through the course of The Candidate we watch him evolve from an unpolished media rookie, overwhelmed by the cameras and nervous in facing the crowds, into a confident personality who has learned the fine art of talking around questions and deflecting issues with practiced humor.
To give the film greater immediacy, Ritchie and Redford shot much of the film like a political documentary. Campaign stops and speeches made around the state were staged like actual rallies, with crowds of citizens cheering on his speeches (it's been reported that some audiences believed that he really was running for office) and cameras filming it all as if it was a news event. To add to the verisimilitude, real local and national television news reporters appeared as themselves to comment upon the campaign (including a fictional editorial by the respected Howard K. Smith), and active politicians can be seen interacting with the fictional campaign. In one scene, Redford's friend and former co-star Natalie Wood appears as herself.
Redford approached veteran stage and screen actor Melvyn Douglas, a leading man in thirties Hollywood classics (such as Ninotchka, 1939) and an Oscar® winner for Hud (1963), to play his father as much for his political history as his acting talents. In addition to his own political activism and outspoken liberal views (which effectively "gray-listed" the actor during the fifties), Douglas' wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, ran for the U.S. Senate against Richard Nixon (and lost) and was Treasurer of the United States under John F. Kennedy. Douglas thought the script a little sketchy. "It read more like an extended TV documentary than a feature film," he recalled later, and it was Redford's conviction that persuaded him to take the part. "He struck me as an artist with integrity and guts." Peter Boyle, best known for his performance as a violent bigot in Joe , brings easy political savvy to his role as campaign manager Lucas, subtlety nudging McKay's rhetoric and political positions to the center while making it look like the candidate is still in charge of his own message. Allen Garfield plays the producer of the TV ads and the cast includes Michael Lerner and Kenneth Tobey. In a footnote, Broderick Crawford (who won an Oscar® playing political sell-out Willie Stark in All the King's Men, 1949) is the uncredited voice on Porter's campaign ads, while Barry Sullivan voices McKay's political spots.
The Candidate straddles the line between cynicism about the way election campaigns pander to the media and a frankness about the negotiations between the ideals of a candidate and the way he shapes his persona and message to get heard by the public and get votes in the election. What played as cynicism and satire then, however, is simply business as usual today, which is one of the reasons the film remains so prescient. The Candidate is set in the era of 16mm news cameras and one inch industrial videotapes, a time when there is no such thing as 24 hour news channels or viral Internet video. But while the tools and the news cycle have changed, the careful cultivation of message and image, the political doublespeak and opportunistic pandering is as contemporary as ever.
Screenwriter Jeremy Larner won the Oscar® in 1972 for Best Original Screenplay and the film became enormously influential. Many politicians cited the film as their inspiration for going into politics, including former Senator and Vice-President Dan Quayle (Larner responded in an editorial in the New York Times: "Inspiring such candidates was not out intention and I don't think the senator understood our movie"). Redford and Ritchie intended The Candidate to be the second in a series of films (beginning with Downhill Racer) "about what systems control our lives to produce winners," but it became their last collaboration. For years, Redford entertained the idea of doing a sequel to catch up with McKay decades later, a man entrenched in the very system that he was afraid would change his idealism, but to date that project has never gotten past the story stage.
Producer: Walter Coblenz
Director: Michael Ritchie
Screenplay: Jeremy Larner
Cinematography: Victor J. Kemper, John Korty
Music: John Rubinstein
Film Editing: Robert Estrin, Richard A. Harris
Cast: Robert Redford (Bill McKay), Peter Boyle (Lucas), Melvyn Douglas (John J. McKay), Don Porter (Jamon), Allen Garfield (Klein), Karen Carlson (Nancy), Quinn Redeker (Jenkin), Morgan Upton (Henderson), Michael Lerner (Corliss), Chris Prey (David).
by Sean Axmaker
TCM Remembers - Michael Ritchie
Director Michael Ritchie died April 16th at the age of 62. A Wisconsin native, Ritchie studied at Harvard before succumbing to the attractions of the theatre. He started working in television during the 1960s where he directed episodes of The Big Valley and The Man from UNCLE among others. He moved into feature films with Downhill Racer (1969) at star Robert Redford's invitation and later directed Redford again in The Candidate (1972). The latter is a classic look at American political life that hasn't lost any of its power or insights over the years. This was the start of Ritchie's most productive period when he made several films that were both popular and critically acclaimed. You can find his sly wit and sense of critical drama in Smile (1975), The Bad News Bears (1976) and Semi-Tough (1978). By the 1980s, though, Ritchie's films focused less on social criticism and more on stars. The Survivors (1983) with Robin Williams remains under-rated but Ritchie-directed vehicles for Eddie Murphy (1986's The Golden Child), Bette Midler (1980's Divine Madness) and Chevy Chase (two Fletch films) didn't quite achieve their potential. Some of the old Ritchie spark and intelligence appeared in the made-for-cable The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993) which earned him a Directors Guild Award. One of his final films was the long-awaited screen adaptation of The Fantasticks (1995) which partly brought Ritchie back to his theatrical roots.
ANN SOTHERN: 1909 - 2001
Actress Ann Sothern passed away on March 15th at the age of 89. Her film career spanned sixty years and included a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for The Whales of August (1987) and several Emmy nominations for her roles in the TV shows Private Secretary (1953) and The Ann Sothern Show (1958). Sothern was born as Harriette Lake in North Dakota. She made her first film appearance in 1927 in small roles (so small, in fact, that some sources omit any films before 1929) before deciding to work on Broadway instead. Shortly afterwards she signed with Columbia Pictures where studio head Harry Cohn insisted she change her name because there were already too many actors with the last name of Lake. So "Ann" came from her mother's name Annette and "Sothern" from Shakespearean actor E.H. Sothern. For most of the 1930s she appeared in light comedies working with Eddie Cantor, Maurice Chevalier, Mickey Rooney and Fredric March. However, it wasn't until she switched to MGM (after a brief period with RKO) and made the film Maisie (1939) that Sothern hit pay dirt. It proved enormously popular and led to a series of nine more films through 1947 when she moved into dramas and musicals. During the 50s, Sothern made a mark with her TV series but returned to mostly second tier movies in the 1960s and 1970s. Finally she earned an Oscar nomination for her work in 1987's The Whales of August (in which, incidentally, her daughter Tisha Sterling played her at an earlier age). Turner Classic Movies plans to host a retrospective film tribute to her in July. Check back for details in June.
TCM Remembers - Michael Ritchie
Oh boy. Here comes Smokey the Bear.- Bill McKay
You make it sound like a death sentence.- Bill McKay
I think we both have a lot in common.- George McGovern
I don't think we have a shit in common.- Bill McKay
He's gonna get his ass kicked.- Floyd J. Starkey
He's not gonna get his ass kicked.- John J. McKay
Oh yeah? How can you be so sure?- Floyd J. Starkey
Because he's cute!- John J. McKay
Can't any longer play off black against old -- young against poor. This country cannot house its houseless -- feed its foodless.- Bill McKay
Can't any longer play off black against old -- young against poor. This country cannot house its houseless -- feed its foodless.- Bill McKay
Photographer Stanley Tretick, best known for his iconic photos of John F. Kennedy with his children in the Oval Office, appears in the chaotic scenes as McKay reaches his victory, as part of the throng crushing around him. Tretick shot promotional stills for this and other Redford films.
A title card at the end of the closing cast credits reads, "And the people of California." The final shots of the film are of the silent, empty hotel room in which "Bill McKay" had asked "Marvin Lucas" what to do next. Crowd scenes, banquets, a San Francisco ticker tape parade and other sequences shown from the point of view of a television camera give a newsreel-like feel to much of the film. Several montages were included within the action to dramatize the passage of time and progress of McKay's campaign. Commercials for McKay, with voice-over narration by actor Barry Sullivan, combined footage of events that had previously been shown, such as McKay's speeches or throngs of his supporters, with similar scenes that had not been included in the main action.
In one scene often included in film documentaries, Robert Redford, as McKay, is seen inside a car reciting hackneyed lines from his speeches, blathering and speaking gibberish. In three scenes, a vague sub-plot unfolds involving McKay and an attractive young woman who has no discernable dialogue: First, the glasses-wearing woman lingers while shaking McKay's hand after the Democratic banquet; at a later function, she is seen whispering into McKay's ear and he responds; finally, near the end of the film she is seen exiting McKay's hotel room just before him, presumably indicating that he was late for an important meeting with union leader "Starkey" because of a dalliance with her. At no other point in the film is the young woman shown, nor is she mentioned by McKay or any of the other characters.
At several points within the film, the controversial issue of legalizing abortion is mentioned. The Roe vs. Wade decision, which would result in the legalization of abortion throughout the U.S., was first argued before the Supreme Court on December 13, 1971, but was not decided until January 22, 1973, six months after the release of The Candidate. Another then-controversial issue mentioned in the film was busing, viewed by some as forced school integration characterized by moving groups of black children into predominantly white schools and white children into predominantly black schools.
The Candidate, which news items indicated began principal photograph in early December 1971 [a modern source listed a November 29, 1971 start date] did not appear on either Hollywood Reporter or Daily Variety production charts, a rarity at that time for productions by well-known filmmakers. According to a March 29, 1972 Variety news item, Warner Bros.' involvement in the project was not "made official" until the previous week, when the picture was first announced as part of the studio's summer releasing schedule. According to a July 24, 1972 Hollywood Reporter news item, Warner Bros. was able to obtain distribution rights to "a $4.5 million picture for a $1.5 million budget." The article reported that other studios [modern sources mention Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox] had been interested in the project but were afraid of its political message and that only Warner Bros. would give the filmmakers the absolute creative freedom they wanted. One modern source adds that after former Fox studio head Richard Zanuck moved to Warner Bros., he convinced them to pick up the project. The July 24, 1972 Hollywood Reporter article added that Warner Bros. executives insisted on only two things: that the film be ready for release to coincide with the Democratic National Convention to be held in Miami Beach in July 1972 and that the film be shot in color "to protect a television selloff."
Portions of the film were shot in Southern California, in and around Los Angeles and San Diego, with most of the film shot in San Francisco and the Bay Area. All of the filming, both interiors and exteriors, took place in real locations, rather than within the confines of a studio. Modern sources state that Redford originally wanted the story set in New York, but director Michael Ritchie convinced him that California would be a better fit for their fictional candidate.
Jeremy Larner, who wrote the screenplay for The Candidate, had been a speechwriter for 1968 Democratic Presidential nominee Eugene McCarthy. Although Redford was not given a story credit, contemporary and modern sources credit him with coming up with the basic idea of the film after watching the 1968 Democratic National Convention on television, then, with Ritchie, bringing Larner onto the project about two years later. According to Filmfacts, Ritchie had been a media advisor to California senator John Tunney in his successful 1970 campaign against incumbent and former actor George Murphy.
Within The Candidate there were many scenes featuring real newsmen, both national and local, as well as many prominent California and national Democratic politicians portraying themselves while interacting with Redford as McKay. The large banquet sequence near the beginning of McKay's post-primary campaign was shot at an actual California Democratic fundraiser. Although some prominent politicians at the fundraiser, including former Vice-President and 1968 Presidential nominee Hubert H. Humphrey and soon-to-be 1972 presidential nominee, Senator George McGovern, are seen in brief medium or close-up shots that did not appear to be staged specifically for The Candidate, many of the real politicians did appear as part of the staged action, shaking hands with or posing for pictures next to Redford as McKay. In the brief sequence featuring actress Natalie Wood, she and Redford chat about yogurt and health while a crowd of photographers take pictures. Wood had starred with Redford in two previous films, Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and This Property Is Condemned (1966, see entries below), both of which were early successes in Redford's career.
Michael Barnicle, who portrayed McKay's co-worker "Wilson" in the film, had been a speechwriter for Tunney and various nationally prominent Democrats. Shortly after The Candidate was released, Barnicle went to work for The Boston Globe newspaper, where he continued writing his popular column until 1998. After leaving the Globe, Barnicle moved from the New York Daily News to The Boston Herald, where he remains as of 2007. In addition to writing his Herald column, Barnicle continued to appear on both radio and television, most frequently discussing politics, sports and current events. The Candidate marked Barnicle's only feature film and dramatic acting appearance.
July 1972 Hollywood Reporter news items stated that the Democratic and Republican parties of Florida co-sponsored the Miami premiere of the film, which was held on July 6, 1972 as a fundraiser for the 1972 Miami Beach political conventions. Key art for the film included the image of Redford blowing a bubble gum bubble as well as the three-finger hand signal which, as McKay explains within the Watts sequence of the film, signified "Peace and up yours."
As part of the publicity campaign for The Candidate, bumper stickers, posters and straw hats proclaiming the McKay campaign slogan "McKay the Better Way" were widely distributed. According to a June 28, 1972 Los Angeles Times article, a voter registration campaign was tied to the film, with a fake "campaign headquarters" set up for the fictional McKay on Weyburn Avenue in Los Angeles' Westwood Village. According to the article, when passersby entered the storefront, they learned about the film, but also were given a bone fide opportunity to register to vote. The article also reported that, during the first two weeks of July 1972, Redford would promote the film on an "unprecedented promotional whistle-stop train voyage throughout the Eastern states." A Hollywood Reporter article on July 10, 1972 described the train trip, which stopped in various Florida cities, emulating an actual "whistlestop" political campaign, at which Redford gave stump speeches and McKay banners and buttons were handed out.
Reviews were generally favorable for the film, although several prominent critics did not like it, notably Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice, who called the film "a piece of cheese," Jay Cocks of Time, who wrote, "Neither the authentic political atmosphere nor canny performances by Redford, Boyle and Porter go far to cut through the basic glibness of the film," and Penelope Gilliatt of The New Yorker, who wrote "You don't often see a picture so banal about balloons." The Candidate was screened at the Venice Film Festival on August 26, 1972. Larner received an Academy Award for his original screenplay for The Candidate, and sound mixers Gene Cantamessa and Richard Portman received Academy Award nominations for Best Sound.
As noted in a September 6, 1972 LAHExam news item and other sources, Warner Bros. had just won a ruling in a suit filed against Maurice Duke and his Cosnat Productions of California company, which had tried to re-issue the 1964 Mamie Van Doren film Party Girls for the Candidate (see below) under its alternate title The Candidate. The ruling also negated a countersuit that Duke had brought against the studio when Warner Bros. initiated its suit for the restraining order.
Several contemporary sources noted that The Candidate was the second of a series of films that Ritchie and Redford planned to make about success. The first film, Downhill Racer (1969, see below), starred Redford as an Olympic skier. Two other films were to be produced, one about a hobo and another about a rodeo rider. However, Redford and Ritchie made no additional films together and Ritchie never directed any film in which a rodeo rider or a hobo was the central character. Although Redford portrayed a rodeo rider in the 1979 film The Electric Horseman, directed by Sydney Pollack, that film would not appear to be related to the proposed Ritchie project.
On October 23, 1988, Larner wrote an op-ed piece for New York Times lamenting the fact that so many recent politicians had stated that they were inspired to go into politics by The Candidate. In the often reprinted article, Larner particularly singled out then Senator and Vice-Presidential candidate Dan Quayle for criticism, stating, "Inspiring such candidates was not our intention and I don't think the senator understood the movie." Larner also debunked former California Gov. Jerry Brown's purported claim that the film was about him. [The similarity centered on the fact that Brown was a very liberal Democratic governor of California and the son of old school Democratic Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown.]
As Larner wrote in New York Times, the essence of the The Candidate was that, despite fighting the superficiality of politics, "his [McKay's] star outshines his soul and events sweep him, blind and lost, to victory." Since 1972, the film frequently has been written about as an example of how modern elections have turned into marketing. As Larner noted in his article, after Watergate, "no one called The Candidate unduly cynical anymore."
In October 2002, Variety and other sources reported that Redford intended to make a sequel to The Candidate featuring the McKay character many years later. At that time, Larry Gelbart was to write the screenplay, which Redford would produce and direct for his Wildwood Company for a Warner Bros. release. However, in a November 14, 2005 item in columnist Army Archerd's blog on Variety.com, Gelbart was quoted as saying that the project, which at one time was under consideration by HBO, was "in development limbo." The item went on to describe the screenplay for the sequel as following now Vice-President McKay's life when he assumes the presidency after the death of the former chief executive.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States June 1972
Released in United States March 1976
Released in United States Summer July 1972
Screened at the Venice Film Festival on Aug 26, 1972.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1972 (Screened at the Venice Film Festival on Aug 26, 1972.)
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)
Released in United States Summer July 1972
Released in United States June 1972
Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs - The Americas: A National Portrait) March 18-31, 1976.)