Hollywood politics

Things move so quickly in our country these days that there doesn’t seem to be much room for movies about the process of politics.
Back in the pre-cable news era, audiences enjoyed movies that lifted the curtain on Washington, D.C. In many cases, the films were based on popular novels and Broadway plays such as Allen Drury’s blockbuster book, “Advise and Consent” (1959) and Gore Vidal’s stage hit “The Best Man” (1960).
As a kid, I remember reading long-forgotten pop novels such as Fletcher Knebel’s “Convention” (1963) in order to find out more about how our political parties came together to nominate candidates.
Now, CNN and Fox News cover the back-breakingly long run-up to our elections in such minute detail that there is virtually no interest in fictional accounts of the process.
This is too bad because the political dramas of yesteryear were — if nothing else — great showcases for actors. Lee Tracy was Oscar-nominated for his juicy turn as a Harry Truman-style ex-president in the film version of “The Best Man” (1964) and Angela Lansbury gave the best peformance of her movie career as the ruthless senator’s wife in “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962).
For the monthly “Martini and a Movie” series that I host at the Fairfield Theatre Company I thought it would be fun to mark this presidential election year with a three-film series devoted to “Politics and Hollywood.”
We’re kicking off the series tomorrow night with a showing of the 1948 Frank Capra film “State of the Union” (above), the once topical drama about a Republican businessman (Spencer Tracy) who is convinced the country can use his common sense and financial knowledge in the White House.
In typical Capra style, the movie’s hero quickly learns that the mighty forces behind our elections will push him to compromise his ideals and bend to their corporate interests.
Just as Capra’s naive Sen. Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) had a smart woman (Jean Arthur) to guide him out of the mess he faced in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939), the Tracy character has an idealistic wife (Katharine Hepburn) who urges him to question the compromises he is being asked to make.
The movie remains funny and challenging and it should be interesting to discuss what it might still have to say about the way we choose our presidents.
“State of the Union” definitely made a strong impression on Ronald Reagan.
32 years later, when Reagan was campaigning in New Hampshire for the 1980 Republican nomination, and was threatened with the loss of control of his debate forum, he was cheered after quoting one of Tracy’s big lines: “I paid for this microphone!”
(The doors for the free “Martini and a Movie” screening will open at 7 p.m. and the film will be shown at 8 p.m. The Fairfield Theatre Company is at 70 Sanford St. in Fairfield Center.)