Monday, October 29, 2012

The Last Hurrah

The Last Hurrah is another of those movies I've been meaning to blog about for some time, but never got around to doing. It's airing tomorrow afternoon at 12:15 PM as part of the last day of Spencer Tracy's turn as Star of the Month on TCM.

Tracy stars as Frank Skeffington, the long-time mayor of an unnamed city, although you can presume it's one of those New England cities that had a large Irish Catholic population and the political machine to go along with it. Skeffington has headed the machine and served as mayor with an iron fist, but we're beginning to get to the era (the movie was released in 1958) when political machines are beginning to weaken. Back then, candidates had to do a lot of pressing of the flesh and speaking at community meetings and stuff, but with the advent of television, savvy politicians realized that they could get their political message out with less effort and without filtering by that other old institution, the partisan newspaper. Skeffington realizes times are changing, and has announced that even if he wins, this is going to be his last term as mayor.

Skeffington in theory should be a shoo-in. He's been good to the little people who support the machine and vote for him, returning the favor with a lot of patronage. Who could possibly be against him? Well, it turns out that with every political machine, there's a lot of corruption. In this case, Skeffington and the machine have more or less been playing favorites with selecting local businesses, and understandably there are money interests who don't like him. Here, the money interests are represented by banker Norman Cass (played by Basil Rathbone). John Carradine edits the local newspaper, which has a decidedly pro-business bent, and even the Cardinal (Donald Crisp) has turned against Skeffington. Still, they, like Skeffington, do all of their dealings in smoky back rooms of the local club.

In many ways, The Last Hurrah is the product of a bygone era. Not only are the political machines and the personalized campaigning here a part of the past (well, maybe with the exception of very small towns where pretty much everybody knows everybody), so is the style of filmmaking. The Last Hurrah is a slow-developing movie, with no effects, little real action, and seemingly nothing big happening. The movie seems to spend an inordinate amount of time at one funeral, for example. I can't imagine a movie about political campaigning being made like this any longer. Finally, a lot of the actors were people nearing the end of their various careers. In addition to the people I mentioned, there are holdover character actors from the 1930s playing the Mayor's closest confidants: Pat O'Brien, James Gleason, and Edward Brophy. That doesn't mean The Last Hurrah isn't a good movie. If you like movies that are grown-up and methodical, this is a very good movie, filled with excellent performances.

TCM's schedule page says The Last Hurrah is available on DVD, but they obviously have a problem with their database, as their listing for the Spencer Tracy movie links to a DVD for a 2009 movie also titled The Last Hurrah. Amazon lists an all-region import DVD available for purchase, but it also seems to be out of print.

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