Sunday, January 24, 2010

State of the Union

State of the Union (1948) is a political satire comedy directed by Frank Capra and stars Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Angela Lansbury, Van Johnson and Adolphe Menjou.

Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury) is called to the home of her father, newspaper publisher Sam Thorndyke (Lewis Stone), who is dying. Thorndyke, a bitter old man, tells his daughter 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 "to make heads roll." After Kay leaves, Sam, tired of his suffering, commits suicide.

Kay is 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 (Adolphe Menjou) and asks him to head the campaign of her handpicked candidate: self-made aviation mogul Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy). She tells Conover that Matthews is "a rare combination of sincerity and drive that the common herd will go for."

Kay also enlists the services of one of her columnists, "Spike" MacManus (Van Johnson) to be a press secretary for Grant Matthews.

Grant Matthews arrives in Washington and states he is not interested in running for president, arguing that he is not a "politician" but a plainspoken American. However, Grant Matthews is an ambitious man, which Conover quickly recognizes, and talks Matthews to test the idea by giving a number of political speeches as he tours the country visiting his airplane factories.

A big obstacle in Conover and Throndyke's plans is Throndyke and Matthews affair and they must stop seeing each other because the illicit relationship with Kay would ruin any chance for the presidency. Kay readily agrees, but Grant is reluctant, as he must ask his estranged wife Mary (Katharine Hepburn), an idealistic woman, to go on the speaking tour with him.

Kay Throndyke and Jim Conovers both agree that Grant Matthews is the type of man they can control, or at least they think he is.

Although Kay Throndyke has agreed to end the relationship with Grant, she still decides to torment his wife Mary. She carefully leaves her glasses on Grant's nightstand for Mary to find. At first Mary is furious and decides to go him. But learning he is thinking of running for president, she agrees to share her husband's campaign but not his bed.

Jim Conover works the political back rooms, making dirty deals in Grant Matthew's name and the speaking tour begins with great success. However, in Kansas, under Mary's influence, Grant Matthews makes his own controversial speech, instead of one of Spike's carefully prepared ones. The people love Grant Matthews but the republican players do not.

In Detroit, Grant plans another speech, this time attacking management, but Jim and Kay interfer with a secret visit from Kay. Matthews agrees to make the prepared speech. Grant Matthews becomes a political pawn, meeting with all the special interest groups that Jim Conover brings to him and making any deal he can that will get him convention delegates.

To formally announce his presidential aspirations, Grant Matthews prepares an elaborate national broadcast from the Matthews' Long Island home. To deflect rumors of Kay and Grant's relationship, Mary is forced to invite Kay to the broadcast, which is the same night as the Matthews' wedding anniversary.

When some of the republican 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 and her children will not appear on the broadcast.

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 can take no more and 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.

Grant Matthews and Mary reconcile. Kay Throndyke and Jim Conover lick their wounds and begin looking for another candidate.

This is another one of director Frank Capra's delightful blends of romantic melodrama and socio-political morality.

This is also of the most loved of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn's collaborations.

The film is an intriguing look at the underhanded dealings and compromises needed to succeed on the road to the White House. Although the movie is over 60 years old, it is probably just as accurate a portrait of campaigning today as it was then.

The film becomes a tug of war for Grant Matthew's affection and his soul, as he lets his ambitions override his ideals.

One thing to watch for in this movie is "Spike" MacManus (Van Johnson) great one liners.

The film also includes delightful performances by character actors Margaret Hamilton as Norah, Charles Dingle as Bill Nolard Hardy and Charles Lane as Blink Moran.

This film's great performances and the well-written script make this movie a must see for every classic film lover.

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