State of the Union (1948)

122 or 124 mins | Drama | 30 April 1948

Director:

Frank Capra

Producer:

Frank Capra

Cinematographer:

George Folsey

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary

Production Company:

Liberty Films, Inc.
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HISTORY

The original inspiration for State of the Union came from stage and screen actress Helen Hayes. According to M-G-M press information, after meeting the authors during the presidential conventions of 1944, Hayes suggested they write a play about presidential candidates, which they then did in 1945. Opening in Nov 1945, State of the Union ran over two years on Broadway (765 performances) and won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize. According to M-G-M press information, Capra had sought to film State of the Union after seeing it three nights in a row during its initial Broadway run. Paramount had, however, already made a deal with the authors for the screen rights in Mar 1946, by which Paramount was required to release the film version before the 1948 presidential conventions. As reported in NYT on 29 Dec 1946, Capra's Liberty Films acquired the film rights under a similar agreement to Paramount's: In addition to the release deadline, the authors received $300,000 plus 50% of the gross after production costs were recovered. Further, the screen rights were leased for ten years, not purchased outright.
       As announced in MPH , the film was originally planned as an RKO release under Liberty's agreement with that studio, but according to Capra's autobiography, RKO backed away when the prospective budget hit $2,800,000. Modern sources cite RKO's desire to cast Gary Cooper in the "Grant Matthews" role as another contributing factor in their decision. Spencer Tracy was not only Capra's first choice for the role, he was the authors' choice as well. According to an item in Associated Press writer Bob Thomas' column, Tracy ... More Less

The original inspiration for State of the Union came from stage and screen actress Helen Hayes. According to M-G-M press information, after meeting the authors during the presidential conventions of 1944, Hayes suggested they write a play about presidential candidates, which they then did in 1945. Opening in Nov 1945, State of the Union ran over two years on Broadway (765 performances) and won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize. According to M-G-M press information, Capra had sought to film State of the Union after seeing it three nights in a row during its initial Broadway run. Paramount had, however, already made a deal with the authors for the screen rights in Mar 1946, by which Paramount was required to release the film version before the 1948 presidential conventions. As reported in NYT on 29 Dec 1946, Capra's Liberty Films acquired the film rights under a similar agreement to Paramount's: In addition to the release deadline, the authors received $300,000 plus 50% of the gross after production costs were recovered. Further, the screen rights were leased for ten years, not purchased outright.
       As announced in MPH , the film was originally planned as an RKO release under Liberty's agreement with that studio, but according to Capra's autobiography, RKO backed away when the prospective budget hit $2,800,000. Modern sources cite RKO's desire to cast Gary Cooper in the "Grant Matthews" role as another contributing factor in their decision. Spencer Tracy was not only Capra's first choice for the role, he was the authors' choice as well. According to an item in Associated Press writer Bob Thomas' column, Tracy happily agreed, saying "I'm getting old and I've never done a picture with Capra." As such, a production and distribution deal was worked out between Liberty and M-G-M, allowing Capra not only the casting of Tracy, but Lansbury, Johnson and Stone, as well as other M-G-M contract players and crews. Recreating her role from the original Broadway cast was Maidel Turner as "Lulubelle Alexander."
       Originally, Claudette Colbert was cast in the role of "Mary Matthews" at a salary of $200,000. On the Friday before shooting began, however, Colbert met with Capra about a provision missing in her contract. According to HR and NYT , Colbert felt there had been an oral agreement for a 5:00 PM stop time. Capra said there was not and refused to meet her demand. When she refused to relent, Capra dismissed her, even though shooting was set to begin the next Monday and $15,000 worth of Colbert's wardrobe had already been completed. Calling Tracy, Capra was informed that Hepburn might do the part, as she had been rehearsing the screenplay with him. Thus, Hepburn stepped into the role on less than a forty-eight hour notice.
       During the film's production, Capra's Liberty Films was absorbed by Paramount Pictures in a complicated stock deal that netted the Liberty partners $5,000,000 in Paramount stock. Thus, according to NYT , while the film was distributed by M-G-M, the "producer's share" became the property of Paramount. When Capra ended shooting in Feb 1948, he amazed many by being fifteen days ahead of schedule and $450,000 under budget. In numerous contemporary interviews, Capra credited his lack of financial involvement in the project for this savings, while in later years he acknowledged the professionalism of the cast.
       While Capra and his screenwriters were almost completely faithful to the play, minor changes were made. The character of "Sam Thorndyke," for example, was only mentioned in the play. Aerial and outdoor sequences were also added. Second unit photography was done in San Antonio, Texas, as well as Van Nuys and the San Fernando Valley, CA. Lindsay and Crouse had made weekly changes in the play during the Broadway run to keep the play up to date in its political references. As stated in M-G-M press information, Capra hired Bill Henry , a Los Angeles news columnist and president of the Radio Correspondents' Association of Washington, as a political advisor to keep him abreast of such matters. Plans were also made to "wild-track" certain sections of the soundtrack, allowing for different political references to be added to prints sent to various regions of the country.
       During shooting, the House Committee on Un-American Activities held its hearings in Hollywood where Menjou, an acknowledged conservative, testified as a "friendly" witness. According to several contemporary and modern sources, Hepburn, a liberal, remained cordial to Menjou when shooting scenes with him but refused to speak to him otherwise. According to an M-G-M News item, prior to the film's release, Capra test-screened the film in four different cities, attempting to get responses to the film from urban, rural, university and female audiences. The film was shown four times in each city, whose identities remain undisclosed.
       The film's premiere was held at the M-G-M Capital Theater in Washington, D.C. under the sponsorship of the White House Correspondents Association with President Harry Truman attending. After the 1948 elections, it was argued in Var that this premiere helped re-elect Truman by making him change his campaign strategy and believe once again in himself, despite the opposition he faced from members of his own political party. Unlike other Capra films, State of the Union was not considered an outstanding critical or financial success, though it managed to place thirteenth on the 1948 box office scroll, acquiring $3,500,000 in domestic rentals. On most prints currently available, both Hepburn and Menjou's first names and director of photography George J. Folsey's last name are misspelled in the opening credits. Modern source credits also include Edwin B. Willis as a set decorator along with Kuri. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
27 Mar 48
p. 916.
Cue
24 Apr 1948.
---
Daily Variety
10 Mar 47
p. 1.
Daily Variety
24 Mar 48
p. 3, 9
Film Daily
29 Mar 48
p. 7.
Hollywood Citizen-News
20 Mar 48
p. 4.
Hollywood Citizen-News
30 Apr 1948.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Apr 46
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 47
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Oct 47
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 48
p. 3.
Liberty
Jul 1948.
---
Life
10 May 48
pp 81-82.
Look
25 May 48
pp. 108-10.
Los Angeles Daily News
30 Sep 1947.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
30 Apr 1948.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Sep 1947.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Apr 1948.
---
Motion Picture Herald
25 Jan 47
p. 47.
Motion Picture Herald
27 Mar 48
p. 26.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
3 Apr 48
p. 4110.
New York Times
3 Mar 1946.
---
New York Times
29 Dec 1946.
---
New York Times
26 Jan 1947.
---
New York Times
31 Aug 1947.
---
New York Times
7 Sep 1947.
---
New York Times
19 Oct 1947.
---
New York Times
15 Feb 1948.
---
New York Times
23 Apr 48
p. 28.
New York Times
2 May 1948.
---
New York Times
24 Jun 1971.
---
New Yorker
1 May 48
p. 82.
Screen Stories
Jun 48
pp. 28-33, 68-72.
Variety
Mar 48
p. 8.
Variety
Jan 49
p. 5.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Drew Demarest
Edward Kane
Sam Finn
Sig Frohlich
Bert Moorehouse
Tim Hawkins
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
Rec dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
MAKEUP
Hair styles des by
Makeup created by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play State of the Union by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, as produced by Leland Hayward (New York, 14 Nov 1945).
DETAILS
Release Date:
30 April 1948
Premiere Information:
Washington, D.C. opening: 7 April 1948
Production Date:
29 September--6 December 1947
Copyright Claimant:
Liberty Films, Inc.
Copyright Date:
23 March 1948
Copyright Number:
LP1534
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
122 or 124
Country:
United States
PCA No:
12952
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Kay Thorndyke is called to the home of her father, newspaper publisher Sam Thorndyke, who is dying. A bitter old man, Sam recounts how the Republican Party betrayed him and that he would be dying in the White House if they had continued to support him. He tells Kay how proud he is of her and her ruthlessness, and reminds her to "make heads roll." After Kay leaves, Sam, tired of his suffering, kills himself. Now the head of the Thorndyke Press, Kay begins the work of grooming her own man for the White House. She meets with Jim Conover, a crusty, back-room political kingmaker somewhat out of favor with his party, and asks him to head the campaign of her handpicked candidate: self-made aviation mogul Grant Matthews, "a rare combination of sincerity and drive that the common herd will go for." Kay also brings in one of her columnists, "Spike" MacManus, a self-described "poor man's Drew Pearson," to be press secretary for Grant. When Grant arrives in Washington, he feigns disinterest in running for president, arguing that he is not a "politician" but a plainspoken American. Despite his honesty, however, Grant is also an ambitious man, which Jim quickly recognizes, and he agrees to test the idea by giving a number of political speeches as he tours the country visiting his airplane factories. Jim tells him that rumors of an illicit relationship with Kay would ruin any chance for the presidency, so they must stop seeing each other. Kay readily agrees, but Grant is reluctant, as he must ask his estranged wife Mary, an idealistic woman, to go on the speaking tour ... +


Kay Thorndyke is called to the home of her father, newspaper publisher Sam Thorndyke, who is dying. A bitter old man, Sam recounts how the Republican Party betrayed him and that he would be dying in the White House if they had continued to support him. He tells Kay how proud he is of her and her ruthlessness, and reminds her to "make heads roll." After Kay leaves, Sam, tired of his suffering, kills himself. Now the head of the Thorndyke Press, Kay begins the work of grooming her own man for the White House. She meets with Jim Conover, a crusty, back-room political kingmaker somewhat out of favor with his party, and asks him to head the campaign of her handpicked candidate: self-made aviation mogul Grant Matthews, "a rare combination of sincerity and drive that the common herd will go for." Kay also brings in one of her columnists, "Spike" MacManus, a self-described "poor man's Drew Pearson," to be press secretary for Grant. When Grant arrives in Washington, he feigns disinterest in running for president, arguing that he is not a "politician" but a plainspoken American. Despite his honesty, however, Grant is also an ambitious man, which Jim quickly recognizes, and he agrees to test the idea by giving a number of political speeches as he tours the country visiting his airplane factories. Jim tells him that rumors of an illicit relationship with Kay would ruin any chance for the presidency, so they must stop seeing each other. Kay readily agrees, but Grant is reluctant, as he must ask his estranged wife Mary, an idealistic woman, to go on the speaking tour with him. Later, when Jim and Kay are alone, he balks at the idea of running Grant's campaign, until Kay not only offers him the chairmanship of the Republican Party if Grant wins, but a vice-presidential position with the Thorndyke press, as well. Most importantly, both agree that Grant is the type of man they can control. When Mary first joins the campaign, she believes it is an attempt at reconciliation by Grant, but finding Kay's carefully placed glasses on Grant's nightstand, she decides to go home. Learning that Grant is thinking of running for president, an idea she wholeheartedly supports, she then agrees to share the candidate's campaign, if not his bed. While Jim works the political back rooms, making dirty deals in Grant's name, the speaking tour begins with great success. Kay, on the offensive, fires the editors of her newspapers when they refuse to do "anything" to deadlock the Republican convention, Grant's best chance for the nomination. In Wichita, Grant, under Mary's influence, makes his own controversial speech, instead of one of Spike's carefully prepared ones. In Detroit, Grant plans another speech, this time attacking management, but Jim arrives and tells Grant such a speech will end his chances for the presidency. Grant is undeterred until he meets secretly with Kay and agrees to make the prepared speech. After Detroit, Grant is a changed man, meeting with all the special interest groups that Jim brings to him and making any deal he can that will get him convention delegates. To formally announce his presidential aspirations, Grant prepares an elaborate national broadcast from the Matthews' Long Island home. To deflect rumors, Mary is forced to invite Kay to the broadcast, which is the same night as the Matthews' wedding anniversary. When some of the politicians attempt to renegotiate their deals with Grant, Kay steps forward and shows that she is the real power behind the campaign. Mary, finding out that Kay was in Detroit and realizing the role she has played in Grant's campaign, gets drunk and announces that she will not make her speech. Kay quickly agrees to make the speech for her, while Spike warns Mary, whom he has come to admire, that if Kay gives the speech, she will lose Grant forever. At the last moment, Mary steps up and begins the speech. Grant, seeing how Mary's compromise of herself is a mirror of his own actions, can take no more. He stops Mary and proceeds to attack all the politicians who supported him, saying that he is no better because he played both sides and lost his faith in both the people and himself. After the speech, Grant and Mary reconcile, as Kay and Jim leave, looking for another "candidate." +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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