Have you voted? Excellent. I did too. Fingers crossed. In case the anxiety that Election Day and its results prove too much for some of my readers, I offer an escape into the comfortable fiction of political movies from a more innocent time... where everything always turned out okay.
Because everything always turns out okay... right?
I find it oddly significant that three of my five favorite political films are comedies. I can’t quite explain why that fact is significant. Does it have something to do with “the human comedy?” That would be a cliché. Am I more comfortable with comedy in general? Am I like a ghost with an empty sleeve pointing a bony finger and laughing at everything that normal people hold dear? That last line was from Inherit the Wind, which surely would make this list if I had expanded it to ten.
#5 Dave (1993)
#4 Seven Days in May (1964)Sweet Smell of Success, which if you think about it, is also a very political film!
#3 Wag the Dog (1997)
#2 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
#1 The Candidate (1972)The Bad News Bears, made one right after the other between 1972 and 1976, our Bicentennial. With subjects as diverse as political campaigns, small-town beauty pageants, and little league baseball, Ritchie tells us everything we could ever want to know about these United States. Gee, do you think it’s just a crazy coincidence that all three films revolve around competitions?
Lawyer Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is tapped by party operative Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) to run for the Senate. The catch? There’s no way he can win. Incumbent Crocker Jarman (Don Porter, Gidget’s Dad!) is popular, and the Democrats just want to field a candidate. McKay will spend a few weeks pressing the flesh and getting his ideas into the headlines, and then he can go back to private life. But McKay proves crazy popular, and the fact that his father John McKay (Melvyn Douglas) is a career politician with name recognition from way back doesn’t hurt. As the campaign wages, young McKay surges in the polls. It looks like he actually has a chance to win. This film seems very knowing as it takes us through the ins and outs of what seems to be a real political campaign; the film has a documentary look that makes it seem real. Apparently, some of the scenes in the film were improvised. This trenchant satire was very hard to see for far too long; it now shows up on TCM fairly regularly. The Candidate has never been released on Blu-ray disc. C’mon, Warner Archive! Get off your ass!
If the above list doesn’t provide enough grist for your political mill today, try these other, terrific political films that I have ALREADY WRITTEN ABOUT. Happy Election Day, America!
All the President’s Men
The American President
Dr. Strangelove, OR: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb