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From Hollywood to Washington

15 great films on politics and politicians

Oct. 5, 2011
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Although it's still 2011, the 2012 presidential campaign has already begun—and for political junkies like me, the back-and-forth of big-time politics is where it's at. Over the years, a number of memorable movies have dealt with corruption and wheeling and dealing among American office-seekers. Here's a brief look at 15 of the best:

Advise & Consent

Otto Preminger delves into political wheeling and dealing as a dying president (Franchot Tone) nominates a new secretary of state (Henry Fonda). The film also features Walter Pidgeon, Charles Laughton, Lew Ayres and Don Murray, who hides a dirty secret.

Alias Nick Beal

This chilling allegory depicts the devil (Ray Milland) corrupting a district attorney (Thomas Mitchell) with the help of a sexy trollop (Audrey Totter). When the sinister Milland gets the D.A. elected governor, Mitchell must sell his soul. It's top film noir.

All the King's Men

This brilliant tale centers on a Huey Long-like governor reveling in dirty politics. Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark is supported by John Ireland, Mercedes McCambridge, Joanne Dru, Shepperd Strudwick and John Derek.

All the President's Men

A probe of the Watergate burglary by reporters Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) causes President Richard Nixon to resign. The film stars Jason Robards, Jane Alexander and Hal Holbrook (as “Deep Throat”).

The Best Man

Gore Vidal offered insights into political conventions as driven men compete for the presidential nomination in The Best Man. Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson have dirt on each other while seeking the endorsement of an ex-president (Lee Tracy). It's nasty and great.

The Candidate

This is a satirical take on a reluctant run for Senate by an idealistic young Californian (Robert Redford). After being promised a campaign of integrity by his handler (Peter Boyle), Redford utters this classic final line after his victory: “What do we do now?”

The Day Reagan Was Shot

On March 30, 1981, a deranged John W. Hinckley triggered fierce political infighting after he nearly killed President Ronald Reagan. The film features stunning work by Richard Crenna (Reagan) and Richard Dreyfuss (Alexander Haig).

Gabriel Over the White House

This 1933 film is a bizarre Depression fantasy of a crooked politician (Walter Huston) who is elected president. He undergoes a mysterious change as he goes straight, fights racketeers and seeks world peace. It also stars Franchot Tone and Jean Parker.

The Last Hurrah

This sparkling John Ford classic is based on the life of Boston Mayor James Curley (Spencer Tracy) and his final campaign. The incisive and evocative film includes Basil Rathbone, Jeffrey Hunter, Pat O'Brien, John Carradine and Jane Darwell.

The Man

Based on Rod Serling's screenplay, James Earl Jones is a senator and president pro tempore of the Senate. He becomes America's first black chief executive after a freak disaster in Europe kills the president and other leaders. Janet MacLachlan and Barbara Rush also star.

The Manchurian Candidate

John Frankenheimer's superior original version features Laurence Harvey as a war hero turned political assassin. Angela Lansbury plays his diabolical mother. Frank Sinatra, James Edwards and Khigh Dhiegh provide strong support.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Frank Capra's all-time best has James Stewart as a young senator who uncovers utter corruption among his new colleagues. The film stars Claude Rains, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Harry Carey and Beulah Bondi.


Laura Dern stars as Secretary of State Katherine Harris in this tale of hanging chads in Florida. The Supreme Court ruling for George W. Bush over Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election remains fresh in our minds. The film also features Kevin Spacey, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson.

Seven Days in May

A Cold War president (Fredric March) with bad poll numbers faces a hero general (Burt Lancaster) plotting a military coup. Kirk Douglas stars as the general's aide who uncovers the plan. Ava Gardner and Edmond O'Brien add to the tingling power of this film.

State of the Union

Frank Capra offers another comedy classic as an industrialist (Spencer Tracy) tries to retain his integrity while running for president. Katharine Hepburn plays his wife, Angela Lansbury is a rich backer and Van Johnson gives a turn as a sardonic campaign manager.

Richard G. Carter was a columnist with the
New York Daily News and has appeared on “Larry King Live” and “Donahue.”


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