The Candidate (1972)

CandidateposterTwo hallmarks of the political film genre are Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men. The latter starred The Candidate’s lead, Robert Redford. However, in this case, the candidate, Billy McKay, is perhaps a more tempered version of Jefferson Smith. He’s a young lawyer, good looking and passionate about justice and doing right by the people.

But this is not a film about a monumental struggle between good versus evil. There are no blatant moments of scandal or obvious skeletons lurking in the closets (although there’s the suggestion that McKay has a slight fling). Still, both men, both the Democrat and the Republican seem like generally amiable individuals — not venomous monsters. If you were with them around a dinner table, no matter your political bent, it would probably be easy to strike up a conversation. But both men, the incumbent, Crocker Jarmon, and the young challenger are playing this game called politics to win the state of California. There’s no doubt about it.

It’s fascinating that the film was actually penned by the real-life speechwriter of Senator Eugene J McCarthy, Jeremy Larner, so you get a sense that there is inherently some truth to the backroom conversations going on between campaign managers, newscasters, and the Senate hopeful. There’s an ethos being elicited and it helps that The Candidate gives off the aura of documentary more often than film.

But what we do see, is the progression of a man. McKay begins resolutely in his ambitions. He’s not at all a politician and he was not planning to become one until he is called upon by a veteran campaign manager. Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) thinks the lawyer has the pedigree (his father was a governor) and the genuine charm to win over votes. And finally, Bill agrees to it all as long as he gets to say what he wants. But as things continue to evolve, this beast that is the political machine begins to churn rather insidiously.

There’s not some dramatic moment of epiphany but there is a sense that McKay has started to allow himself to be sucked into this political popularity contest. His advisors are constantly setting up their next moves, putting together press junkets and public appearances to bring their candidate before the people. Meanwhile, his wife (Karen Carlson) is trying to support his cause and his famous father (Melvyn Douglas) eventually looks to get in on the publicity as well. And McKay is certainly candid and likable but he also soon learns what is expected of him. His answers become vague, he toes the line closer and ladles out the type of rhetoric the masses want to hear. The sad thing is that it’s this strategy which begins helping in the polls. Not astronomically but it’s a systematic shift giving him a good chance to win the contest.

But by election night, the votes are being cast, both sides are frantically preparing and Bill realizes he might be on the edge of a precipice he never foresaw. He’s being hoisted up as a champion of the people and yet he realizes he doesn’t want to be there but by this point, it’s too late. He can’t turn back. He can’t reimagine himself because he played the game already.

It’s hard to decipher where the film goes from here — what truly is next? His staff is happy. His wife is happy. His father is happy. Everyone else seems happy too. But the candidate is left to get whisked away by a mob — still wearing a glum face of bewilderment. In some ways, he’s a Jefferson Smith for the modern era. Duped by a system that he thought he could reform, only to find out he sold out. It’s somehow both comic and cynical — in a rather unnerving way — striking a tender nerve. Imagine if you have an election as volatile as the latest one. This film is no less true even over 40 years later. In some ways, everything still functions like a nefarious game. The question is, who is the joke really on?

3.5/5 Stars

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

76af9-the_friends_of_eddie_coyleIn this precursor to other gritty Boston crime films like The Departed, Eddie “Fingers” Royle (Robert Mitchum) is a middle-aged truck driver who does some gun running on the side for the mob. On one occasion he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and it meant two more years of jail time. He’s seen the clink before.

Three men have been pulling off bank jobs in clear daylight using hostages and new guns each time. Eddie is the guy who has been delivering the guns, and he deals with a young thug (Steven Keats) who acquires the stolen merchandise.

Eddie also gets acquainted with F.B.I. agent Dave Folley (Richard Jordan) who tells Eddie his only way to dodge prison is to become an informer. Unbeknownst to Eddie, Folley has another informant working for him, in fact, it’s the man who set Eddie up. Now Eddie is thinking of himself and so he sets up the gunrunner Jackie because he has everything he needs. Folley closes in and nabs the guy. Eddie wants to be done with it, but Folley wants more. Eddie’s buddies who have been pulling the heists are his next victims, but Folley’s other man gives him the information faster and Royle is left with nothing to bargain with. To top it off, he is suspected to be the stool pigeon, and a hit is secretly planned on him. The middle-aged, hopeless, beat down, world-weary, nobody is knocked off and no one loses any sleep over it.  The manipulative stooge reaps the benefit and agent Folley has what he wants. Royle was the one who got the short end of the stick. Some friends he had.

Peter Yates proves again after Bullitt that he can deliver on gritty crime films. He left San Francisco and car chases behind for Boston, Mass. and bank jobs. Murder seems prevalent everywhere and with the killing comes a wide array of tough guy types. The violence is not over the top and neither is the drama, but it is cool, collected and unsentimental.

I cannot help but compare Mitchum’s performance to earlier crime films of his like Out of the Past. He has some of the same grittiness and toughness, but he is decidedly wearier in this film. He has similar moral ambiguity, but his death is far more pitiful. There is no redemption here, and he is a lowlife loser to the end. Despite his rough edges and shady activity, it is difficult not to feel just a little sorry for the man. The film’s title only helps to point out the irony of his situation. We thought he was the rat, but it turned out it was someone else. He needed to find new friends, but then again it takes one to know one. They were a product of their environment and that environment was not the friendliest place to be.

4/5 Stars

“Look, I’m getin’ old, you hear? I spent most of my life hanging around crummy joints with a buncha punks drinkin’ the beer, eatin’ the hash and the hot dogs and watchin’ the other people go off to Florida while I’m sweatin’ out how I’m gonna pay the plumber. I done time and I stood up but I can’t take no more chances. Next time, it’s gonna be me goin’ to Florida.” ~ Eddie Coyle

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder with Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, and Teri Garr, this comedy films parodies old horror films like the original Frankenstein. However, it also functions as a drama in its own right much like the original Frankenstein films. Wilder is a professor and the grandson of Victor Frankenstein. The thing is, he wants nothing to do with his infamous relative, even going so far as pronouncing his name differently. However, when he inherits the family estate he must face his ancestry head on. There temptation takes over and he begins to build a creature of his very own, with horrifyingly funny results. This film has memorable moments including “Putting on the Ritz” and the Inspector’s arm. I still cannot believe that Feldman’s eyes get that big either! Wow. Wilder plays well off his Creature and Garr and Cloris Leachman both have important roles in Mel Brooks’ comedy.

4/5 Stars