Hidden Gems of Hoopla: The Candidate

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Now that Library cardholders can take advantage of the free hoopla digital download service, we’ve asked Library public affairs staffer and former Kansas City Star movie editor Robert W. Butler to search the hoopla catalog for “hidden gems.” With Oscar season upon us, Robert reviews the 45th annual Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay.

I’m not sure whether to be depressed or comforted by the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate. This depiction of a California race for a U.S. Senate seat suggests that when it comes to politics, very little changes.

Labor lawyer Bill McKay (Redford) is recruited to go up against an old-style Republican pol considered unbeatable. McKay is willing to be a sacrificial lamb as long as he’s free to air the liberal issues that matter to him.

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And then he starts climbing in the polls, which means that if he is to have a real chance of winning, he’ll need to tone down the rhetoric.

The campaign issues depicted here are all too familiar. Abortion. Poverty. Protecting the environment. The redistribution of income.

The Republican incumbent wraps himself in God and the flag to defend his pro-business point of view. McKay appeals to the voters’ sense of fairness and compassion.

Along the way director Michael Ritchie provides a near-documentary look at what goes on in a high-powered campaign. The depictions of the various political advisers, advance men, and starry-eyed volunteers feel totally authentic — a mixture of smarts, cynicism, and enthusiasm.

The core issue — how far will you bend your integrity to win election? — is as timely now as it was 40 years ago.

The Candidate was written by Jeremy Larner (he won an Oscar for his screenplay), a speechwriter for Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s failed 1968 presidential campaign. He had the inside poop.

The film is packed with juicy performances. Redford, of course, has just the sort of charisma we look for in our politicians, but his McKay is far from saintly. For one thing, there are the women. (This was long before Bill Clinton.)

Peter Boyle is terrific as a seasoned political brain who takes McKay under his wing. Old-time movie star Melvyn Douglas is McKay’s father, a former California governor (any resemblance between real-life father-and-son politicos Pat and Jerry Brown is not coincidental). Don Porter (a veteran of '50s and '60s TV sitcoms) is funny/infuriating in his depiction of the current Senator’s phony folksiness.

And a whole lot of real people — actress Natalie Wood, politicians Hubert H. Humphrey and George McGovern, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, and journalists like Mike Wallace — appear as themselves.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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