Just in time for the political conventions, NPR lists the best political movies. Bob Mondello divides them into three categories: manipulating the media, manipulating the candidate, and manipulating the process. Well, if someone isn’t manipulating something, there’s no need for a hero. I was glad to see one of my favorites like The Best Man, based on a play by Gore Vidal and starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Today’s viewers might be confused by the idea that the candidate was not actually selected until the convention but the strategies and moral conflicts will seem very contemporary.
Another one of my favorites is All the President’s Men, based on the true story of the young reporters who investigated the Watergate break-in and found layers of deception and cover-up that led to the only Presidential resignation in US history. And I was glad to see the only Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movie directed by Frank Capra on the list, State of the Union. He plays an industrialist encouraged to run for office by a manipulative political operator and she is his estranged wife, brought into the campaign because — in those days — a candidate had to have an intact family. I’d also recommend another of their lesser-known collaborations, “Keeper of the Flame.” He is a reporter writing about her late husband, a revered statesman with what turns out to be a very ugly secret. A Congressman once told me the movie that seemed most authentic to his experience in politics was The Seduction of Joe Tynan, with a sensational early performance by Meryl Streep. And I would also add Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and the musical about the political meeting that started it all for the United States, 1776.