The Candidate (Michael Ritchie, 1972)

What's it about? The young, idealistic Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is asked to run for senator in an no-hope election campaign, and he reluctantly agrees so he has a platform to spread his ideas. But the public unexpectedly warm to his straight-talking approach and as his chances of winning increase, he struggles to stay true to his principles as the campaign kicks into high gear.

Is it any good? A good time to catch up with this, given that the US is currently caught up in the latest election circus, complete with pantomime characters, laughable soundbites and catchphrases, finger-pointing, chest-thumping, baby-kissing and flag-waving in the eternal quest for votes. It would be funny it it weren't so serious. Which is precisely the point of The Candidate, which impresses as a prescient, satirical look at American politics in the age of TV, where ideas and ideals get neutralised for public consumption, and 3D characters get flattened to 2D for the consideration of the voting plebs watching on the box. "So what's new?", you might ask, "everyone knows politicians are double-speaking, opportunistic puppets who carefully cultivate their public persona for the telly". Well, fair enough, and it's true that this doesn't say anything particularly new about the politics game that you won't have seen in other films or even in TV shows like The West Wing. Neither is it as sharp as, say, Network, in its skewering of the power of TV as propaganda. However, it is never less than interesting and effectively captures the chaotic nature of an election campaign, plus it also has a fantastic final line. And then there's Redford's shiny, golden hair, which I think I'm right in saying is one of only two things that can be seen from space, and which remains a thing of absolute beauty.

Anything else I should know? It won an Oscar for its script, which was written by Jeremy Larner, one of Senator McCarthy's key speechwriters in his 1968 presidential bid. Larner had become disillusioned with the machinations of the political game and was eager to work on the film with Redford, who had also become dismayed at the way the '68 election had become a such a pageant. Redford always wanted to do a sequel which portrays McKay decades later as a man entrenched in the very system he was afraid of in the first place. That film never got made (yet), but I suspect if it does, the backstage view of the driving forces behind American politics might not be much different than it was in 1972.

What does the Fonz think? USA! USA! USA!

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