I am watching this highly interesting movie as I type and I would recommend it to all really interested in politics. The plot goes like this:
"William Russell (Henry Fonda) and Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson) are the two leading candidates for the presidential nomination of an unspecified political party. Both have potentially fatal vulnerabilities. Russell is a principled intellectual (believed by many critics and fans to be based on Adlai Stevenson). A sexual indiscretion has alienated his wife Alice (Margaret Leighton). In addition, he has a past nervous breakdown to live down. Cantwell (believed to be based upon John F. Kennedy with some Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy mixed in) portrays himself as a populist "man of the people", and patriotic anti-communist campaigning to end "the missile gap" (a Kennedy campaign catch-phrase), but is a ruthless opportunist, willing to go to any lengths to get the nomination. Neither man can stand the other; neither believes his rival qualified to be President."
More below the fold.
The narrative continues:
"Both candidates clash at the nominating convention and lobby for the crucial support of dying former President Art Hockstader (Lee Tracy). The pragmatic Hockstader (a character based on Harry Truman, particularly his comments on "striking a blow for liberty" whenever he drinks a bourbon) prefers Russell, but worries about his indecisiveness and overdedication to principle; he despises Cantwell, but appreciates his toughness and willingness to do what it takes."
The writing in this movie is quite brilliant. Gore Vidal adapted his biting and bitter political satire from his Broadway play. Franklin J. Schaffner directed and Haskell Wexler provided the cinematography.
Now, Joe Cantwell sounds like...Sarah Palin/"W"/Paul Ryan and all of today's GOP usual suspects. In fact when a reporter asks him about policy, he says something along the lines of:
"If we cut Government spending enough...we could get rid [totally] of the [income] tax..."
To that candidate Cantwell adds his "we need to spend more on military hardware..." and the dose of "state rights over everything else" and the "we need to fight the Communist threat..."
In all it is a brilliant movie and it does help to understand that the talking points of the past are the talking points of today in American politics.