Criterion Prediction #38: The Candidate, by Alexander Miller

candidateTitle: The CandidateYear: 1972Director: Michael RitchieCast: Robert Redford, Peter Boyle, Melvyn Douglas, Karen Carlson, Allen GarfieldSynopsis: It’s election time and the Democratic party doesn’t have a viable contender to run against California Senator Crocker Jarmon. Campaign Specialist Marvin Lucas (Boyle) seeks out Bill McKay (Redford), an outspoken and idealistic son of former Governor John McKay. The upside to running against Jarmon is that McKay is permitted to speak his mind and dare to do what few politicians ever have – be honest! What initially seemed like a burdensome task, McKay’s campaign gains momentum and the seemingly unwinnable election takes an unexpected turn, and McKay finds himself compromised.Critique: Amid the many politically charged movies from the New Hollywood movement, Michael Ritchie’s The Candidate seems to live in the shadow of films like Network, or Medium Cool. Most likely due to the less exclamatory tone of the movie which, in some ways makes this title stand out from the other films of this period. Instead of clobbering the viewer with the admirable (if on the nose) defiance that permeated the cultural zeitgeist of the time, Ritchie takes a more deliberate approach in articulating the film’s political angst. If Paddy Chayefsky’s catalyst for change in Network was Howard Beale howling “I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” then Bill McKay in The Candidate is saying, “I’m pretty mad, I’ll tell you why, but I’m going to get pushed into becoming another bullshitter.” Which is exactly what happens to the once optimistic McKay as he glad-hands his way into being another cog in a system he wanted nothing to do with.Although The Candidate precedes Network by five years, you can’t ignore the powerful screenwriters that energize these films. Chayefsky’s characters in Network might spit fire in every scene, but Jeremy Larner’s naturalistic eye and ear for politics and dialogue might outflank Chayevsky by unraveling media transparency so well by shouting and not screaming.Larner’s Oscar-winning script doesn’t come as a surprise considering his chops in politics and screenwriting. Larner was a well-versed speechwriter for Senator McCarthy during the 1968 primaries against the seemingly immovable incumbent President Johnson. Sound familiar? Politics can be engrossing or alienating, but the marriage of Ritchie’s prudent direction and Redford’s assured but vulnerable performance ensure the films fluidity – Redford’s reputation and appearance simultaneously reinforce and mock our perception of the “all American” clean faced politician. Peter Boyle’s comparatively subtle role as McKay’s campaign manager shows his range as an actor, just as Gene Hackman had done so three years prior in Downhill Racer. But it’s Larner’s script that brings everything together. Realism benefits the narrative structure and vice versa. Mckay’s tv panels, interviews and rallies capture a quality of realism thanks to the experienced hands of its screenwriter.A relatively overlooked director from the New Hollywood, Ritchie consistently explored not just the nature of competition, but the all too human flaws behind the venerable reputations frequently built around athletes as well as politicians. The notion of competition and athleticism would be recurring themes in Ritchie’s work, the ascension from Downhill Racer to The Candidate ironically invert the stakes of politics to comedic, whereas Downhill Racer treated Olympic skiing with stark urgency. But the shared understanding is that contemporary media (then and now) portray politics as a game, an annoying truth for the audience and the protagonist alike.In some ways, Ritchie’s relative autonomy and controlled direction lend The Candidate its timelessness and relevance. It’s a cliche to say that a movie is “just as relevant now as it was when it was made” but that is the case for The Candidate. Personal cynicism aside, politics matter and this is an outstanding movie; it tells rounded a story, delivers an important message maintains a sense of humor without being self-serious or preachy.Why it Belongs in the Collection: Criterion’s release of Ritchie’s Downhill Racer was a wonderful surprise; the restoration highlights a film that had the reputation (to a handful of people) as “the movie Roman Polanski almost directed.” Having said that, Ritchie is an excellent director whose unabrasive intelligence yielded to one of the best political satires to come from the early seventies. In concert with the auteur theory, The Candidate would be an all too appropriate successor to Ritchie’s debut feature Downhill Racer in terms of a Criterion release. But, more importantly this is a great film that is yet to receive a Blu-ray release, and, to my knowledge, the rights from Warner Brothers are attainable. As a side note, Tony Stella, an artist whose self-commissioned Criterion (as well as other movie) posters are pretty fascinating put up his poster design for The Candidate on his Tumblr page. Wishful thinking, or a preamble for a future release?

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