Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
The Candidate (1972)
Warner Bros. Home Video | Review by Dan Taylor

Robert Redford stars in The CandidateI've watched this flick a half-dozen times over the past decade and I always come away impressed. Director Michael Ritchie, screenwriter Jeremy Larner and star Robert Redford create such a believable portrait of a politician's "birth" that it speaks volumes about our political process. In the long run it's about how an idealist can even become seduced by the potential for power.

Redford's Bill McKay -- son of a gubernatorial legend (Melvyn Douglas playing the character as just this side of Satan) -- is a legal eagle do-gooder using his skills (and groovy 70s sideburns) to help those less fortunate. It's a role that plays right into Bobbo's real-world lifestyle. When campaign manager Peter Boyle enters his life and promises a shot at running a hip, young campaign built on real issues, McKay bites.

But, instead of depicting a handsome good-guy winging his way to the Senate on a platform of charm, ideals and freak power, THE CANDIDATE takes a different turn. (If the movie were made today Harrison Ford would play the character as the only political saint in the history of American politics who runs his campaign HIS WAY without outside influence...yawn.) While McKay gains ground on his entrenched, incumbent opponent (Don Porter as the Reagan-esque Sen. Crocker Jarmon), his ideals and views on issues mutate from heartfelt stances into cliche soundbites that appeal to the masses, but alienate those who believed in his vision.

By film's end McKay is simply another adulterous politician seduced by the spotlight, unsure of how to proceed. I've always loved the helpless look on his face when he asks Boyle (who is also great in the flick), "What do we do now...?" His stances stand for nothing, they're simply fluff that sounds good on the evening news.

Not only is this the type of film Hollywood won't make any more, it's also the type of role Redford turned his back on years ago. Now he casts himself as a still-handsome leading man who is irresistible to women 10, 15, 25 years his junior (Lena Olin in HAVANA, Demi Moore in INDECENT PROPOSAL, Michelle Pfieffer in UP CLOSE & PERSONAL).

Hell, in this election year, this is certainly one of the best political films you can gear up with. Though produced during a gentler political age, THE CANDIDATE still packs a powerful wallop.

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