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10 Political Films To Help You Through 2020

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With a pandemic, political unrest and a contentious presidential election that may not be fully decided for days if not longer, perhaps you need some escape. Here is a list of the 10 best Hollywood films about politics.

Speaker 1: 00:00 On the Eve of the last presidential election KPBS film critic, Beth Armando spoke with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz about the cable channels showcase of political films. Four years later, those films are once again, worthy of checking out and enjoy this interview from the cinema junkie podcast archives, you've grouped these films into kind of smaller packages. One collection is called born to run, which is kind of looking at more the campaigning process. One of the films is one of my favorites because I love Spencer Tracy. And that's the last hurrah. So tell me a little bit about why you pick this film and what you liked about it.

Speaker 2: 00:43 It's strange to call any movie your favorite John Ford movie, because just by virtue of picking a favorite John Ford movie, you leave out so many great films, but I will say that this is certainly the John Ford movie that I think is most overlooked when discussing great John Ford movies. I think it's his only really political movie across the spring from the pages of the most horrible best seller of our time. Rooming over with the juices of greatness as two time Academy award winning actors, Spencer, Tracy, and Academy award winning director, John Horn create the most unforgettable character in screen history.

Speaker 2: 01:28 I was born here at him. See those two windows. I mean, the Cardinals were all born down there together and you know, it comes up pretty late in Tracy's career. And Tracy essentially in the movie plays the mayor of Boston. It's never completely referred to as Boston, but it's pretty clear as a large new England city, uh, what we're talking about. And it's just a, it's, it's a really layered political movie because you can't, it's Spencer, Tracy, you can't help but root for him here as the mayor, but there's plenty of corruption to pick at. And he's had a political machine, which he presumes will put him into office again here in one final hurrah. This is going to be his last hurrah. This is going to be his last election. It is layered. It is complicated. My father loved this movie and my dad was Bobby Kennedy's press secretary, and ran George McGovern campaign. And he always thought from the moment he saw it, when it came out when he was 35 years old, that it was pretty close to as this is as good as Hollywood can do politics. This doesn't turn politicians into buffoons, which Hollywood does from time to time. But it also sort of gives us the complicated nature of, uh, of how political campaigns work.

Speaker 1: 02:57 Another film I want to highlight from your born to run group is one of my favorite political films, which is the candidate. And this has Robert Redford as kind of this unwilling candidate who gets drafted into a campaign. And this film was made in 1972, but it is still so on the money for the kind of commentary it makes.

Speaker 2: 03:19 When I talked to my dad about political movie, two movies that he said most accurately reflect the campaign where the last era and the candidate. I mean, the candidate is so realistic that it feels like a documentary.

Speaker 3: 03:31 I think it's important to note what subjects we haven't discussed. We completely ignored the fact that this is a society divided by fear, hatred, and violence. And until we talk about just what this society really is, then I don't know how we're going to change it

Speaker 2: 03:46 From start to finish. It's terrific, but a Redford who is, you know, I also think just this, another actor who, uh, can save volumes without speaking, and I think is supremely underrated, but in the candidate, Redford plays a, I think he's an environmental lawyer and he's the son of a former governor led by Melvin Douglas. And as you say, sort of drafted to run a Senate campaign. And the beauty of it is, Hey man, you can say whatever you want, because you're never going to win. This is an establishment candidate, uh, who can't be beaten. And then it takes us through that campaign and how the campaign changes even sort of the most ideologically pure. And uncorrupt among us, but it's a really good lesson for people who were overly idealistic about politics. And I don't want to, I don't want to crush people's idealism, but, but, but politics works in part because it probably crushes too much idealism, but this is a good perspective on, on what being part of that system does. And it does it even to the best politicians who sort of accomplish the most good for the most people. So it has one of the great, uh, last lines of, of any, of any political movie of all time to the candidate does.

Speaker 1: 04:57 All right, we won't give that away, but you also have a group of films that are a little less serious, which are the political comedies. And if I had to recommend just two films from this group of films, it would be the candidate and the great McGinty. I love that movie,

Speaker 2: 05:14 Nothing wrong with, with, uh, recommending the great McGinney. First of all, it's never wrong to recommend a Preston Sturgis movie. This was, uh, made really at the beginning of what was an amazing four year run for Sturgis, uh, just a remarkable set of movies. And it begins in many ways with the great McGinty, which again, he wrote and directed, Brian, Don LaVey came to mirror off William Demarest. It's such a terrific political movie and funny and gen genuinely funny.

Speaker 3: 05:42 She was filed by dr. Jones, J Javez chairman of the civic purity league, inc. They're always talking about grant, but they'd forget if it wasn't for graft, you get a very low type of people in politics, Manuela ambition, jellyfish, it's hilarious.

Speaker 1: 05:58 And it just comes at you rapid fire and almost every line seems to be a punchline

Speaker 2: 06:04 Sturgis managed to give you extreme circumstances without making them seem so silly that you lost interest in the movie because on paper, you know, like the idea of a hobo forgive the terminology, but it was 1940, you know, who, uh, uh, just sort of rises one rung up the political ladder, uh, at a time until he's at the top of the political ladder is absurd, except somehow in the great McGinty. It actually makes sense while also sort of amusing you every step of the way.

Speaker 1: 06:35 Well, and it's interesting too, because on a certain level it's extremely cynical about the whole process and yet there's still kind of a warmth to it.

Speaker 2: 06:45 Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course, of course. There's, you know, there's, there's some good in it. No question, but yes, uh, it is incredibly cynical about the process and it, it also just shows you that, that, that as cynical as we think we are now about, uh, American politics, uh, you know, uh, we were plenty cynical, uh, in 1940 and, you know, uh, and again, this movie released, you know, basically a year, a little over a year before, uh, uh, before we actually joined the fight in world war II and, you know, imagine sort of patriotism and, and, and belief in our political leaders was at an all time high.

Speaker 1: 07:16 If you could pick from any film outside of the ones that TCM is running, do you have a favorite on-screen president? It could be somebody playing a real president or a fictional,

Speaker 2: 07:26 Uh, Henry Fonda and fail safe is really my favorite. Um, uh, my favorite onscreen precedent, 64 comes out the same year as dr. Strangelove, but this, uh, a fail safe takes the, the moment of, uh, of an accidental nuclear war seriously, whereas Kubrick and, and in, in dr. Strange love, uh, made it farcical, uh, both remarkable movies, uh, taken from different books with similar ideas. And it's really terrific and interesting. If you have the opportunity to see those movies together on the same night or the same weekend, it'd be a pretty good film festival for you. Dr. Strange love and fail safe.

Speaker 1: 08:01 That was Beth Armando speaking with Turner classic movie host Ben Mankiewicz in an archive interview from 2016. You can find the full interview at Beth's cinema junkie blog@kpbs.org.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.