Home Carl Larsen | Carly at the Movies: Got politics?

Carl Larsen | Carly at the Movies: Got politics?


While most of us are willing to roll up our sleeves and help build that yellow brick road when Barack Obama takes office next year, right at the moment there’s a strange silence.
The phone’s not ringing. I’m not getting six to eight robo-calls a day, suggesting I vote for Fred Featherbottom or Mortimer Snerd. And as much as I’m in favor of Campaign Reform (which is always talked about and never acted upon), for some perverse reason I miss the excitement of politics.

Can’t think of a better way for us political junkies to fill the next couple of months than to sit back and enjoy some of the great politics-based films that Hollywood has manufactured over the last 70-or-so years. Most on my list of faves are classics, but there are a few newbies that bear exploring.

Call me a sentimental sap if you choose, but my favorite political movie has always been that tribute to the fundamental political goodness of us common folk, “Meet John Doe.” Released in 1941 starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, I think it was Coop’s best role and one of Frank Capra’s true gems. It glows with that same insane sense of hope that many of us felt when JFK came along.

Robert Redford was at the height of his physical georgiosity in the early 1970s, so he was perfect for the lead in Jeremy Larner’s Oscar-winning screenplay “The Candidate.” This is straight-arrow irony and a film we should probably all re-watch before we ever go to the polls. Peter Boyle plays the ruthless manager of a pretty-boy candidate who plays the game of politics all too well.

The great Robert Altman, rest his maverick bones, made one of the truly great TV Miniseries of all time, calling it “Tanner ’88.” It starred Michael Murphy and Pamela Reed in a fascinating satire-soaked study of politics in a media-crazy world. Don’t miss this treat. Altman teamed with Gary Trudeau on the script in 11 episodes that runs over 300 delicious minutes. Available on DVD.

Back to Frank Capra for number four, the magnificent 1939 polemic, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Definitely not for cynics, but if you still harbor dreams of an honest man succeeding in Washington, he probably looks like Jimmy Stewart in this great film.

“All the King’s Men” won the Oscar for best picture of 1949 and its star, Broderick Crawford, was voted Best Actor. There’s a star-studded cast in this iconic tale of the rise of a populist, corrupt politician. Forget the poor 2006 remake, try the original.

Speaking of all somebody’s men, let’s toss in the President’s right about here at number six. “All the President’s Men” won four Oscars and was one of the biggest movies of the decade back in 1976. Redford and Hoffman et all rekindled the fire of the fall of the Nixon empire in heart-pounding detail.

Christopher Jones starred in the 1968 cautionary tale called “Wild in the Streets.” Lots of fun ensues when a rock star takes over Washington. It loses a little luster when viewed nowadays, but the ending ain’t so funny. Shape of things to come? Maybe.

“Advise and Consent” was based on Alan Drury’s blockbuster novel in 1962, starred Henry Fonda and starred almost everyone in Hollywood. Good solid political stuff, also notable as the great Charles Laughton’s last role. Very enjoyable even today.

Can’t leave Tracy and Hepburn off the list, and “State of the Union” was arguably one of their best. It’s based on a Broadway play and directed by, yep, good ol’ Frank Capra. Aces material and as non-partisan as a political movie ever gets.

Finally there’s “Wag the Dog,” Barry Levinson’s 1997 tweaking of Washington’s big fat nose. Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro star in this quirky tale of a war fabricated for political ends. Kinda scary, after Bush’s Folly, but also fun.


– Column by Carl Larsen



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