The Candidate (1972)

PG | 109-110 mins | Satire | July 1972

Director:

Michael Ritchie

Writer:

Jeremy Larner

Producer:

Walter Coblenz

Cinematographer:

John Korty

Production Designer:

Gene Callahan

Production Company:

A Redford-Ritchie Production
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HISTORY

A title card at the end of the closing cast credits reads, "And the people of California." The final shots of the film are of the silent, empty hotel room in which "Bill McKay" had asked "Marvin Lucas" what to do next. Crowd scenes, banquets, a San Francisco ticker tape parade and other sequences shown from the point of view of a television camera give a newsreel-like feel to much of the film. Several montages were included within the action to dramatize the passage of time and progress of McKay's campaign. Commercials for McKay, with voice-over narration by actor Barry Sullivan, combined footage of events that had previously been shown, such as McKay's speeches or throngs of his supporters, with similar scenes that had not been included in the main action.
       In one scene often included in film documentaries, Robert Redford, as McKay, is seen inside a car reciting hackneyed lines from his speeches, blathering and speaking gibberish. In three scenes, a vague sub-plot unfolds involving McKay and an attractive young woman who has no discernable dialogue: First, the glasses-wearing woman lingers while shaking McKay's hand after the Democratic banquet; at a later function, she is seen whispering into McKay's ear and he responds; finally, near the end of the film she is seen exiting McKay's hotel room just before him, presumably indicating that he was late for an important meeting with union leader "Starkey" because of a dalliance with her. At no other point in the film is the young woman shown, nor is she mentioned by McKay or any of the other characters.
       At several points within the film, the controversial issue of ... More Less

A title card at the end of the closing cast credits reads, "And the people of California." The final shots of the film are of the silent, empty hotel room in which "Bill McKay" had asked "Marvin Lucas" what to do next. Crowd scenes, banquets, a San Francisco ticker tape parade and other sequences shown from the point of view of a television camera give a newsreel-like feel to much of the film. Several montages were included within the action to dramatize the passage of time and progress of McKay's campaign. Commercials for McKay, with voice-over narration by actor Barry Sullivan, combined footage of events that had previously been shown, such as McKay's speeches or throngs of his supporters, with similar scenes that had not been included in the main action.
       In one scene often included in film documentaries, Robert Redford, as McKay, is seen inside a car reciting hackneyed lines from his speeches, blathering and speaking gibberish. In three scenes, a vague sub-plot unfolds involving McKay and an attractive young woman who has no discernable dialogue: First, the glasses-wearing woman lingers while shaking McKay's hand after the Democratic banquet; at a later function, she is seen whispering into McKay's ear and he responds; finally, near the end of the film she is seen exiting McKay's hotel room just before him, presumably indicating that he was late for an important meeting with union leader "Starkey" because of a dalliance with her. At no other point in the film is the young woman shown, nor is she mentioned by McKay or any of the other characters.
       At several points within the film, the controversial issue of legalizing abortion is mentioned. The Roe vs. Wade decision, which would result in the legalization of abortion throughout the U.S., was first argued before the Supreme Court on 13 Dec 1971, but was not decided until 22 Jan 1973, six months after the release of The Candidate . Another then-controversial issue mentioned in the film was busing, viewed by some as forced school integration characterized by moving groups of black children into predominantly white schools and white children into predominantly black schools.
       The Candidate , which news items indicated began principal photograph in early Dec 1971 [a modern source listed a 29 Nov 1971 start date] did not appear on either HR or DV production charts, a rarity at that time for productions by well-known filmmakers. According to a 29 Mar 1972 Var news item, Warner Bros.' involvement in the project was not "made official" until the previous week, when the picture was first announced as part of the studio's summer releasing schedule. According to a 24 Jul 1972 HR news item, Warner Bros. was able to obtain distribution rights to "a $4.5 million picture for a $1.5 million budget." The article reported that other studios [modern sources mention Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox] had been interested in the project but were afraid of its political message and that only Warner Bros. would give the filmmakers the absolute creative freedom they wanted. One modern source adds that after former Fox studio head Richard Zanuck moved to Warner Bros., he convinced them to pick up the project. The 24 Jul 1972 HR article added that Warner Bros. executives insisted on only two things: that the film be ready for release to coincide with the Democratic National Convention to be held in Miami Beach in Jul 1972 and that the film be shot in color "to protect a television selloff."
       Portions of the film were shot in Southern California, in and around Los Angeles and San Diego, with most of the film shot in San Francisco and the Bay Area. All of the filming, both interiors and exteriors, took place in real locations, rather than within the confines of a studio. Modern sources state that Redford originally wanted the story set in New York, but director Michael Ritchie convinced him that California would be a better fit for their fictional candidate.
       Jeremy Larner, who wrote the screenplay for The Candidate , had been a speechwriter for 1968 Democratic Presidential nominee Eugene McCarthy. Although Redford was not given a story credit, contemporary and modern sources credit him with coming up with the basic idea of the film after watching the 1968 Democratic National Convention on television, then, with Ritchie, bringing Larner onto the project about two years later. According to Filmfacts , Ritchie had been a media advisor to California senator John Tunney in his successful 1970 campaign against incumbent and former actor George Murphy.
       Within The Candidate there were many scenes featuring real newsmen, both national and local, as well as many prominent California and national Democratic politicians portraying themselves while interacting with Redford as McKay. The large banquet sequence near the beginning of McKay's post-primary campaign was shot at an actual California Democratic fundraiser. Although some prominent politicians at the fundraiser, including former Vice-President and 1968 Presidential nominee Hubert H. Humphrey and soon-to-be 1972 presidential nominee, Senator George McGovern, are seen in brief medium or close-up shots that did not appear to be staged specifically for The Candidate , many of the real politicians did appear as part of the staged action, shaking hands with or posing for pictures next to Redford as McKay. In the brief sequence featuring actress Natalie Wood, she and Redford chat about yogurt and health while a crowd of photographers take pictures. Wood had starred with Redford in two previous films, Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and This Property Is Condemned (1966, see entries below), both of which were early successes in Redford's career.
       Michael Barnicle, who portrayed McKay's co-worker "Wilson" in the film, had been a speechwriter for Tunney and various nationally prominent Democrats. Shortly after The Candidate was released, Barnicle went to work for The Boston Globe newspaper, where he continued writing his popular column until 1998. After leaving the Globe , Barnicle moved from the NYDN to The Boston Herald , where he remains as of 2007. In addition to writing his Herald column, Barnicle continued to appear on both radio and television, most frequently discussing politics, sports and current events. The Candidate marked Barnicle's only feature film and dramatic acting appearance.
       Jul 1972 HR news items stated that the Democratic and Republican parties of Florida co-sponsored the Miami premiere of the film, which was held on 6 Jul 1972 as a fundraiser for the 1972 Miami Beach political conventions. Key art for the film included the image of Redford blowing a bubble gum bubble as well as the three-finger hand signal which, as McKay explains within the Watts sequence of the film, signified "Peace and up yours."
       As part of the publicity campaign for The Candidate , bumper stickers, posters and straw hats proclaiming the McKay campaign slogan "McKay the Better Way" were widely distributed. According to a 28 Jun 1972 LAT article, a voter registration campaign was tied to the film, with a fake "campaign headquarters" set up for the fictional McKay on Weyburn Avenue in Los Angeles' Westwood Village. According to the article, when passersby entered the storefront, they learned about the film, but also were given a bone fide opportunity to register to vote. The article also reported that, during the first two weeks of Jul 1972, Redford would promote the film on an "unprecedented promotional whistle-stop train voyage throughout the Eastern states." A HR article on 10 Jul 1972 described the train trip, which stopped in various Florida cities, emulating an actual "whistlestop" political campaign, at which Redford gave stump speeches and McKay banners and buttons were handed out.
       Reviews were generally favorable for the film, although several prominent critics did not like it, notably Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice , who called the film "a piece of cheese," Jay Cocks of Time , who wrote, "Neither the authentic political atmosphere nor canny performances by Redford, Boyle and Porter go far to cut through the basic glibness of the film," and Penelope Gilliatt of The New Yorker , who wrote "You don't often see a picture so banal about balloons." The Candidate was screened at the Venice Film Festival on 26 Aug 1972. Larner received an Academy Award for his original screenplay for The Candidate , and sound mixers Gene Cantamessa and Richard Portman received Academy Award nominations for Best Sound.
       As noted in a 6 Sep 1972 LAHExam news item and other sources, Warner Bros. had just won a ruling in a suit filed against Maurice Duke and his Cosnat Productions of California company, which had tried to re-issue the 1964 Mamie Van Doren film Party Girls for the Candidate (see below) under its alternate title The Candidate . The ruling also negated a countersuit that Duke had brought against the studio when Warner Bros. initiated its suit for the restraining order.
       Several contemporary sources noted that The Candidate was the second of a series of films that Ritchie and Redford planned to make about success. The first film, Downhill Racer (1969, see below), starred Redford as an Olympic skier. Two other films were to be produced, one about a hobo and another about a rodeo rider. However, Redford and Ritchie made no additional films together and Ritchie never directed any film in which a rodeo rider or a hobo was the central character. Although Redford portrayed a rodeo rider in the 1979 film The Electric Horseman , directed by Sydney Pollack, that film would not appear to be related to the proposed Ritchie project.
       On 23 Oct 1988, Larner wrote an op-ed piece for NYT lamenting the fact that so many recent politicians had stated that they were inspired to go into politics by The Candidate . In the often reprinted article, Larner particularly singled out then Senator and Vice-Presidential candidate Dan Quayle for criticism, stating, "Inspiring such candidates was not our intention and I don't think the senator understood the movie." Larner also debunked former California Gov. Jerry Brown's purported claim that the film was about him. [The similarity centered on the fact that Brown was a very liberal Democratic governor of California and the son of old school Democratic Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown.]
       As Larner wrote in NYT , the essence of the The Candidate was that, despite fighting the superficiality of politics, "his [McKay's] star outshines his soul and events sweep him, blind and lost, to victory." Since 1972, the film frequently has been written about as an example of how modern elections have turned into marketing. As Larner noted in his article, after Watergate, "no one called The Candidate unduly cynical anymore."
       In Oct 2002, Var and other sources reported that Redford intended to make a sequel to The Candidate featuring the McKay character many years later. At that time, Larry Gelbart was to write the screenplay, which Redford would produce and direct for his Wildwood Company for a Warner Bros. release. However, in a 14 Nov 2005 item in columnist Army Archerd's blog on Variety.com, Gelbart was quoted as saying that the project, which at one time was under consideration by HBO, was "in development limbo." The item went on to describe the screenplay for the sequel as following now Vice-President McKay's life when he assumes the presidency after the death of the former chief executive. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
10 Jul 1972
p. 4504.
Daily Variety
6 Jun 1972.
---
Daily Variety
21 Jun 1972.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jul 1972.
---
Filmfacts
1972
pp. 189-93.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jun 1972
p. 3, 5.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jun 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jul 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jul 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 1972.
---
Life
7 Jul 1972
p. 22.
Life
28 Jul 1972
pp. 45-48.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
5 Jul 1972.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
6 Sep 1972.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
26 Oct 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Jun 1972
Section IV, p. 1, 10.
Los Angeles Times
2 Jul 1972
View, p. 1, 55.
Los Angeles Times
23 Sep 1972.
---
New Republic
5 & 12 Aug 1972
p. 24.
New York Times
30 Jun 1972
p. 25.
New York Times
23 Oct 1988.
---
New Yorker
1 Jul 1972
pp. 64-65.
Newsweek
17 Jul 1972
pp. 78-79.
Saturday Review
15 Jul 1972
p. 60.
Time
17 Jul 1972
p. 49.
Times (London)
22 Oct 1972.
---
Variety
29 Mar 1972.
---
Variety
21 Jun 1972
p. 18.
Variety
23 Oct 2002.
---
Variety
14 Nov 2005.
---
Village Voice
31 Aug 1972
pp. 49-50.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
And playing themselves:
ABC
ABC
L.A. Times
KTTV
Rolling Stone
Ex-agent
Also appearing:
Gary Liddiard
Bill Jones
Pat Harrington Jr.
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Stillman
Advance gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
Prop master
Asst prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Sd eff
Dubbing mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod asst
Electronic consultant
Unit pub
Loc mgr
Auditor
Cinemobile tech
Casting
McKay commercials by
Scr supv
Transportation
Transportation
Transportation
Transportation
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
SOURCES
SONGS
"A Better Way" and "Just a Friend," music by John Rubinstein, lyrics by David Colloff.
DETAILS
Release Date:
July 1972
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York City: 29 June 1972
New York opening: 30 June 1972
Los Angeles opening: 6 July 1972
Production Date:
December 1971--late March 1972 in San Francisco
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros., Inc.
Copyright Date:
29 June 1972
Copyright Number:
LP41630
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
109-110
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23272
SYNOPSIS

After managing an unsuccessful senatorial campaign in the Midwest, Marvin Lucas flies to California to convince legal aid activist Bill McKay to run for the senate against the "unbeatable" Republican incumbent, Crocker Jarmon. Lucas, who enjoys the money and perks that come with managing a political campaign, drives to San Diego to meet Bill, the handsome, privileged son of former California governor John J. McKay. Estranged from his father, Bill proclaims that he hates politics and is not interested in running for anything, but his wife Nancy enthusiastically suggests that Bill has both the looks and the power to be a successful candidate. Lucas assures the skeptical Bill that he will have the perfect platform to get out his social and political message without encumbrance and writes his guarantee on the inside cover of a matchbook, "You lose.” After attending a Republican rally, at which the slick Jarmon sarcastically denounces various liberal causes, Bill realizes that he wants to run and later announces his candidacy to a small group of reporters. Bill impresses the reporters with his candor and lack of political doubletalk, especially when he expresses unequivocal support for controversial issues such as busing and welfare. When Lucas introduces Bill to Howard Klein, a successful campaign and media advisor who tells Bill to get a haircut and dress more conservatively, Bill laughs off the importance of a new image, but complies. Initially, Bill is self-conscious shaking hands with strangers and awkward speaking before the small crowds who come to see him. Gradually, though, he becomes more comfortable with the crowds and the press, and his support starts to grow, especially among ... +


After managing an unsuccessful senatorial campaign in the Midwest, Marvin Lucas flies to California to convince legal aid activist Bill McKay to run for the senate against the "unbeatable" Republican incumbent, Crocker Jarmon. Lucas, who enjoys the money and perks that come with managing a political campaign, drives to San Diego to meet Bill, the handsome, privileged son of former California governor John J. McKay. Estranged from his father, Bill proclaims that he hates politics and is not interested in running for anything, but his wife Nancy enthusiastically suggests that Bill has both the looks and the power to be a successful candidate. Lucas assures the skeptical Bill that he will have the perfect platform to get out his social and political message without encumbrance and writes his guarantee on the inside cover of a matchbook, "You lose.” After attending a Republican rally, at which the slick Jarmon sarcastically denounces various liberal causes, Bill realizes that he wants to run and later announces his candidacy to a small group of reporters. Bill impresses the reporters with his candor and lack of political doubletalk, especially when he expresses unequivocal support for controversial issues such as busing and welfare. When Lucas introduces Bill to Howard Klein, a successful campaign and media advisor who tells Bill to get a haircut and dress more conservatively, Bill laughs off the importance of a new image, but complies. Initially, Bill is self-conscious shaking hands with strangers and awkward speaking before the small crowds who come to see him. Gradually, though, he becomes more comfortable with the crowds and the press, and his support starts to grow, especially among young, female voters who are attracted to his boyish good looks. As the campaign progresses, Bill begins to make small compromises, usually at Lucas’ or Klein’s urging, and easily wins the June Democratic primary, in which he ran unopposed. Because their goal is to lose, Bill does not see it as a problem when Lucas reveals that current polls project that he will receive only 32 percent of the vote in the general election, but Lucas lashes out at Bill, convincing him that a complete thrashing in November would make them both laughingstocks. Some time later, as they are about to fly from Los Angeles to San Diego, a campaign aide informs Lucas that there is a fire in the hills above Malibu, prompting Lucas to whisk Bill from the plane and drive toward the perimeter of the fire. Lucas is sure that Bill will have a golden opportunity to discuss his policies on environmental issues like over-development, watersheds and federal disaster insurance, but before Bill can speak to the press, they are distracted by Jarmon's arrival in a helicopter. The senator quickly takes charge, announcing that he has arranged for Malibu to be declared a federal disaster area and will soon introduce legislation on watersheds and federal disaster insurance, measures that he previously had opposed. When Bill approaches Jarmon to say that he wants to debate, Jarmon dismisses him with a perfunctory "sure you do, son," and quickly flies away. Continuing on the campaign trail, Bill makes some headway, but not enough to impress Lucas. Upon learning that a story is about to break that John J. endorses Jarmon, Lucas finally convinces Bill to approach his father. At John J.'s mountain retreat, Bill and his politically astute father are distant with each other, but Bill swallows his pride and asks John J. for a public statement of support. Soon an announcement is made that John J. fully endorses Bill and denies rumors that he ever supported Jarmon. As the election nears, crowds and support for Bill begin to swell, just as he and Nancy, who has been enthusiastic about the prospect of Bill's election, are becoming estranged from each other and argue over how much their private life has to be exposed to the public. As Bill begins to act more like other politicians, his standings in the polls rise, but many of his old friends turn against him for “selling out.” Then prominent ABC television news anchor Howard K. Smith delivers a scathing on-air editorial criticizing him for dropping his once-fresh approach in favor of selling himself like laundry detergent. Stung, Bill goes to Lucas to talk, but Lucas is distracted by new polling numbers showing that Jarmon's lead in the race has been reduced to eight percentage points and the news that the now-worried Jarmon has agreed to a debate. On the evening of the televised debate, Bill initially falters and appears too young and inexperienced against the more seasoned Jarmon, but a last-minute exchange in which Bill deviates from Klein's scripted advice, leaves Jarmon appearing flustered and angry. After the debate, Bill is hurt when Jaime, a former office mate, refuses to speak to him, and another friend, Wilson, says that he understands what Bill is trying to do. Just then, a jubilant John J. leads a group of reporters over to Bill and gives him an enthusiastic handshake, telling him that he is now a politician. By the time of the election, Bill has turned into a slick candidate, even making a political deal to gain support from an old crony of his father, union boss Starkey. Preparing for bed the night before the election, Bill wistfully looks at the matchbook on which Lucas wrote "You lose." On election day, Bill and Nancy vote early in the morning, smiling before the cameras, just as a worried Jarmon and his wife do the same. All day, Bill's young, eager campaign volunteers work to get the vote out, despite the constant rain, and that night, as election returns show that Bill is starting to take the lead, his San Francisco campaign headquarters becomes the scene of a jubilant party. When television newscasters finally announce that Bill has been elected, he feels isolated and pleads with the elated Lucas for a moment alone. While Nancy, Klein and others talk about the success of the campaign and living in Washington, Bill has only a few moments alone with Lucas to ask, "Marvin, what do we do now?" before a crowd of joyous supporters swarm into the room. +

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

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