Saturday, November 01, 2008

State of the Union

In his Op-Ed column today, Frank Rich talks about Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, using it to discuss just what an Obama presidency would mean. Reading his column reminded me, however, of another Tracy-Hepburn film, one that seems even more relevant to this election - Frank Capra's State of the Union (1948). It's a movie about a tough-minded, independent, principled flying ace-cum-industrialist who is persuaded (in a glorious performance by Angela Lansbury - one of the few times in memory that an actress has come close to upstaging Hepburn in a film) to enter the primaries as a candidate for Republican nominee for President. He is picked because he is an outsider, even a maverick, someone who stands apart from the dirty politics of the time, and may therefore be the moribund GOP's best shot at winning the White House.

For a while Grant Matthews (the character Tracy plays) is all driven and idealistic (see clip here) - even suggesting the formation of a United States of the World (league of democracies anyone?). But pretty soon he comes under the control of the party political hacks: he starts to toe the party line, he begins to worry about vote banks and delegate counts, and forgets all the reasons he agreed to run for President in the first place. And those who had once thought well of him, who had thought him both genuine and honest, shake their heads in dismay and dismiss him as yet another politician.

Sound familiar?

The scary thing about State of the Union is not just the parallels between the Matthews campaign and the McCain one, but the fact that the issues Matthews talks about in the movie - healthcare, employment, taxes, the possibility of depression, Russia, world peace, rich vs. poor - are issues that could have come straight out this year's presidential debates. The more things change...

P.S. I should say, for the record, that I don't think State of the Union is a particularly great film. As a Tracy-Hepburn collaboration the most that can be said for it is that it's marginally better than, say, Pat and Mike; and while it has some nice Capra-esque touches (the Spike McManus character, for one), it's a little too weighed down by Capra's political views. The biggest problem with the film, I think, is that Hepburn is badly miscast. There are many things Hepburn is extraordinarily good at, but playing a loving but helpless wife is not one of them (someone like Joan Fontaine - that milksop to end all milksops - would have been so much better).

No comments: