The Candidate (1972)

  • Written by Jeremy Lamer (his screenplay won an Oscar).
  • Directed by Michael Ritchie.
  • A political operative called Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) has this great idea to convince former California governor John McKay’s son (Bill, played by Robert Redford) to run for the U.S. Senate. He’s like, ‘Look – you can do & say what you want, because you’re gonna lose. So like – why the hell not?!”
  • Bill is hesitant, but Nancy (Bill’s wife, played by Karen Carlson) is immediately on board.
  • Bill attends a rally for incumbent senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter), and in response is like, ‘Yeahhhh, okay. I’ll do it.’
  • Bill & his ragtag campaign team do a lot of walking along streets, along beaches, near parks, near construction sites, etc., talking to random groups of people they cross paths with. Seems smart!
  • Bill wins the Democratic primary unopposed. Natalie Wood makes a cameo at his victory party & tells him that she likes what he stands for. So, you know, hooray.
  • They do really well establishing the documentary style of the film & conveying the fast-moving whirlwind of all the campaigning through the camera work – there are quick movements & brief tracking shots that are interrupted by people moving across the frame. Like – you get the feeling that you are in the middle of the crowd & being moved along with all of the action that’s happening. It’s very effective.
  • There’s this long-haired girl with tinted glasses who’s appeared twice now at campaign events – and I suspect she’s Bill’s mistress that no one is yet aware of. But…I suppose we’ll find out.
  • Shortly after the primary, Bill is polling at 32%…and not gaining any ground.
  • I love the sparseness of the scene where Bill talks to a high school gym occupied by 8 or 9 people – though there are chairs set up for about 200. Fantastic.

“Comments? Suggestions? Dirty jokes?” Bill says to silence.

  • The scene that follows, in which 4 different conversations are happening at once & all the while, Bill struggles (& fails) to procure a Pepsi from a vending machine is perfect, too. The feeling of frustration & fruitlessness translates exquisitely.
  • Next, Bill goes to visit Father Melvyn at his cabin in the wilderness. (Sorry – by “Father Melvyn” I mean former governor John McKay, Bill’s dad.) Melvyn watches football, calls Bill “Bud” and complains about knee pain. Excellent.
  • Bill does what he said in the beginning he’d absolutely not do, & asks his dad to publicly support him.
  • Aha. He is starting to play the system and wow! Now he is only 8 points behind. As a news anchor says in reference to McKay: “Virtue is too great a strain for the long haul of the campaign.”
  • Jarmon finally agrees to a debate, and in the last minute, McKay goes completely off script with a rant about the important topics that had not yet been discussed by either of the campaigns thus far. His campaign advisors are not thrilled. But, well, whatever.
  • By the way, Don Porter embodies this character (Jarmon) – the likes of which we know all too well in real life – fantastically. It’s a solid performance.
  • The advertising/tv-spot manager for the campaign consistently smashes bags of hard candy with a hammer, which he then snacks on while continuing his work & conversations. What a strange personality quirk.
  • Aha! Bill just came out of a hotel room with the long-haired glasses girl from earlier. I told you so!!! (Poor Nancy.)
  • Bill’s old friend & former coworker Pete (that might not be his name) comes to a campaign speech & afterwards gives Bill words of encouragement, saying that he thinks Bill can “go all the way.” He continues, “Look, you and I both know this is bullshit, but the point is – they’re believing it.”
  • On the day before the election, they are only 3 points behind.
  • Well, whaddaya know. The bullshit worked, and young Bill McKay wound up victorious.
  • Very well made movie…though it’s depressing to see how spot-on the commentary on the real political system is – and how little all of this has changed since 1972.
  • Melvyn Douglas was great in all of his scenes. (No surprise there.)
  • Redford was good, too – as was Peter Boyle.

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