Perfect movie for an election season. Based on the best seller by Gore Vidal who also wrote the screenplay. Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson are the candidates for nomination, Edie Adams and Margaret Leighton are the wives. Kevin McCarthy and Gene Raymond are the campaign managers. Lee Tracy is the outgoing president.
It’s the nominating convention. Secretary Of State William Russell (Henry Fonda) is an intellectual who doesn’t seem like much of a fighter. He’s also a womanizer. His wife Alice (Margaret Leighton) wanted a divorce but says she’ll stay by him in the campaign if he promises, no girls in the white house. His campaign manager Dick Jensen (Kevin McCarthy) keeps telling him to be more aggresive.
Senator Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson) is a commie hunting conservative who says he speaks for the people. He never met a dirty trick he didn’t like. His campaign manager is his brother Don (Gene Raymond). His sexy blonde wife Mabel (Edie Adams) is with him all the way.
President Art Hockstader (Lee Tracy) surprises Russell by coming out of the bathroom in his hotel suite. He wants their meeting to be secret. He tells Russell that he’s dying of cancer. He gives him a lecture on how to play politics. Russell wants his endorsement but it doesn’t look good. Hockstader thinks he’s too weak and can’t make quick decisions.
Later Hockstader visits Cantwell. The two argue as Cantwell can’t hold his temper. His brother Dick comes in with a file they dug up on Russell. It shows that he’s a manic depressive who spent time in an institution following a breakdown. Hockstader is disgusted with the tactic and knows all about it. He tells him he was going to get his endorsement but no longer.
At a gathering that starts with a song by Mahalia Jackson Hockstader speaks. Everyone anticipates that he’ll name his choice. He doesn’t. Jensen has an ace up his sleeve. He brings to Russell’s hotel suite Sheldon Bascomb (Shelley Berman).
He was in the army with Cantwell and has a bombshell. With no women around he says Cantwell was too fond of the men. Hockstader is there too. Now both potential nominees have something on each other. Russell tries to take the high road and Cantwell gets low down and dirty.
Ann Sothern has a role as an annoying party member who says she speaks for the women. Howard K. Smith plays, what else, a reporter. Lee Tracy was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The winner was Peter Ustinov for “Topkapi.”
See this movie and find out how ugly politics gets….or…just watch the news. The movie’s better.