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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007 02:16 am

Movie campaigns

Hollywood could do a better job of taking down the process

Untitled Document Politics is definitely in the air in Springfield. The Barack Obama campaign staged the first major presidential event to hit Springfield in many years on Feb. 10. Not to be upstaged, the Sangamon County Republicans invited their party’s golden boy, Karl Rove, to speak at their annual Lincoln Day Luncheon, two days later. Obama has already ignited interest in Hollywood from everyone from such stars as Steven Spielberg and George Clooney, but when it comes to dramatizing the election process these figures generally abstain. Audiences prefer some thrills with their movie politics. The most highly regarded election-based movie is the assassination thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962), which happens to be one of the most naïve political movies ever released. The 2004 remake, starring Denzel Washington, plugged up all the huge plot holes, but fans of the original will never acknowledge the improvements. Occasionally Hollywood will play it straight with the subject, but this was more prevalent in earlier decades. Silent-screen legend Harold Lloyd starred as a missionary’s son who is coerced into running for mayor in the obscure gem The Cat’s-Paw (1934). Lloyd’s work in the sound era has been largely ignored, but this oddity is one of his best films. Preston Sturges, the best director of comedies in the ’40s, made his directorial debut with the wonderful comedy The Great McGinty (1940). Brian Donlevy stars as a bum who is groomed by a political boss to work himself up through the ranks to the governorship. Is Sturges making a statement about politicians? I’ve never understood why this isn’t ranked with Sturges’ best work. Cynicism in the modern era replaced the old idealistic views of old Hollywood. The Candidate (1972) is a sharp satire starring Robert Redford as an activist lawyer who is persuaded to serve as the sacrificial opponent of a conservative U.S. senator. This is as real as it gets, thanks to the perceptive screenplay by Jeremy Larner, a former speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy. How many political movies have the audacity to actually use the party names? Sometimes Hollywood will allude to real presidents. Primary Colors (1998) is a thinly disguised fictionalized treatment of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. The casting of John Travolta was good, but the film lacks real bite. The real thing was far more entertaining. Chris Cooper does a pitch-perfect impersonation of George W. Bush as a fictional gubernatorial candidate in Silver City (2004). It’s a shame that the film’s potential was derailed by a murder plot and cover-up. If a mediocre actor can become president, then Hollywood should do a better job taking down the process.
New on DVD this Tuesday (Feb. 27): Stranger than Fiction, A Good Year, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, and The Return.
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