The Best Man Reviews
This pic deserved a few more Oscar nominations.
Sheer tension, as this one is for all the marbles in a political showdown that starts slowly but builds to a ruthless climax.
For political junkies, fans of Henry Fonda and political drama lovers in general, this one is carried primarily by Henry Fonda at the peak of his movie career while his advisary, Cliff Robertson has just started.
All those backroom deals you hear about are shown here at the convention. All the backstabbing and infighting revealed. The smear campaign of Roberson (as Cantwell) as a right wing, self rightous candidate is brought to bear on Fonda. Fonda has a past of being treated for mental illness and Cantwell, his opponent, is going to release the embarressing truth to a voting convention.
Black and white drama that is brisk and builds with tension as the vote for the party's nomination and sure succession to the Presidency hangs like low fruit on a tree, just waiting to be picked.
Henry Fonda fans will thrill as this "thinking man's" candidate looks as though he could be a real President.
Original Release Date: May 23, 1964
Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson square off as political adversaries during a presidential primary in this sardonic, insightful drama that brings out the best, and worst, in American politics.
Based on a novel by Gore Vidal, famous writer of the 1960's and real arch enemy of noted right wing columnist William F. Buckley, politico incarnate.
Henry Fonda (as Bill Russell, candidate)
Cliff Robertson (as the evil candidate)
Shelley Berman (1960's comedian)
Edie Adams (real life wife of Ernie Kovacks, comedian)
John Henry Faulk
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
Composer: Mort Lindsey
Set Decorator : Richard Mansfield
Producer: Stuart Millar
Editor: Robert Swink
Director: Franklin Schaffner
Producer: Lawrence Turman
Screenplay: Gore Vidal (author of the book made to film)
Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler
Art Director: Lyle R. Wheeler
Robertson and Fonda are on two different sides of the ethical fence as they vie for the Presidential nomination of their party. Robertson's flipping through his set of index cards on the delegates, using the dirt - or the price - they contain to line up his votes.
Not exactly the stuff of leadership from Fonda's point of view. And Fonda's got some dirt on Robertson, but using it to stop Robertson is against his better nature and involves collateral damage.
The film's payoff is a face-to-face facedown of wills between the two - and between ethics and politics as usual - leading to a photo-finish on the convention floor.
From a 1960 Broadway play and 1964 screenplay, both inked by Gore Vidal.
The film's most famous for studio execs taking a pass on Ronald Reagan for a role, deciding Reagan was a great guy but that he didn't look presidential. Despite that lapse in judgment, Fonda's extraordinarily well suited for his role as a leader accepting responsibility for difficult decisions, not so unlike his delivery in "Fail-Safe."
Such dirty dealings in smoke-filled back rooms is seen as business-as-usual these days, but it was likely a new perspective for many viewers back in 1964.
Given the material was developed in the late 1950s and given the nature of the characters, it's not much of a stretch to presume that Vidal had Nixon and Adlai Stevenson in mind when creating them. Especially when Fonda points out Robertson's self-serving egotism is a disastrous Presidential characteristic - and when Robertson labels Fonda as a fool who doesn't understand how politics really works.
RECOMMENDATION: Both prescient and dramatic, the film's still well recommended four decades later.
Despite the script flaws, Fonda and Robertson are both good and Lee Tracy just about steals the picture as the ex-President.