One of the best political satires ever made!
Commander Adama | USA | 08/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Since the gentleman before me does such a wonderful job in describing the movie's plot I won't go into that...but I did want to say that "State of the Union" is one of my all-time favorite "classic" movies. This highly underrated Frank Capra film ranks as one the best on-screen pairings of the ever-watchable Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. This film is just as relevant to today's political system as it was to its' own era a half-century ago, which only shows that there has never been a "golden age" of American politics. Tracy is superb in his role as a kind of sane and non-paranoid Ross Perot who hopes to "come from nowhere" and capture the 1948 Republican presidential nomination. Katherine Hepburn,Van Johnson and Adolphe Menjou turn in strong supporting performances, but this film really belongs to a very young (and very attractive) Angela Lansbury, as the ruthless owner of a newspaper publishing empire who will stop at nothing to make Tracy the Republican nominee - even if it means breaking up his marriage. One last bit of trivia - this film is loosely based on the real-life presidential campaign of Wendell Willkie, a young and dynamic New York businessman who really did "come from nowhere" to beat the bosses and win the 1940 Republican presidential nomination. He went on to lose a close race to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the memory of his underdog victory against the "crooked politicians" inspired many Americans for years, including Katherine Hepburn and Frank Capra. So not only is "State of the Union" a great piece of political satire, it's also based on a real historical event - which just goes to show that our political system doesn't always have to run by the "bad guys". "State of the Union" is a superb film - don't miss it!"
The Tracy and Hepburn team do a Capracorn film
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 06/12/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Hollywood always seems to produce better Presidents and candidates for President than the real world, which is certainly the case with this 1948 Frank Capra film. Spencer Tracy plays Grant Matthews, who is persuaded by his mistress, powerful publishing heiress Kay Thorndyke, played to the hilt by Angela Lansbury, to seek the Republican nomination. Katharine Hepburn plays Mary Matthews, who joins her estranged husband to present a public portrait of a happy family. With the aid of the conniving political boss Jim Conover, played by Adolphe Menjou, Matthews begins the long road to the White House.
Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, you can still get a sense of the original three-act structure of the story. Act I in a Washington, D.C. bedroom in the house of political operative Jim Conover is where Matthews is convinced to try running for President and his wife is persuaded that this is as much a chance to save her marriage as it is to advance her husband's campaign. Act II in a hotel room in Detroit is where Matthews begins sacrificing principles for political expediency in his quest to gain the White House. Act III takes place in the Matthews home on the night of a national radio address, when everything finally comes to a head. From this perspective you have to credit scenarists Anthony Veiller and Myles Connolly with have done an excellent job of adapting the play to the screen. There are a lot of little jokes at the expense of the politicians in both parties in 1948, which will probably be lost on contemporary audiences; in fact, while on Broadway the political jokes were updated weekly. Certainly the particular brand of "Republicanism" offered by candidate Matthews, with his belief in the ultimate formation of a United States of Earth, sounds much more like what we would consider left-wing politics today.
As with most Capra films the acting is a delight from top to bottom. Tracy has several of those earnest speeches about America that make you shake your head when you look at Bore and Gush, while Hepburn tries to deal with both her husband's political amibitons and the other woman in his life. Lansbury's cold and calculating performance foreshadows the monstrous creature she plays in "The Manchurian Candidate." Van Johnson as Spike McManus is pretty much the weatherwave of the story and there is a marvelous moment when Johnson makes a sarcastic quip and Tracy turns and says, "I haven't quite made up my mind about you yet." Howard Smith, Margaret Hamilton and Lewis Stone all have marvelous bit parts as well. Capra was always more concerned with the people who played his characters more than art direction or shot composition. "State of the Union" is rarely considered one of Capra's best works simply because he had less of an impact than usual because it was based on such a successful play, but it is certainly in keeping with the ideological perspective of more celebrated Capracorn films such as "Meet John Doe" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
Final notes: "State of the Union" was originally slated for Capra favorite Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert. Tracy was signed instead of Cooper and when Colbert pulled out at the last moment Tracy suggested Hepburn, who had been rehearsing with him, as the obvious replacement. There are a few suspicious souls who believe that Ronald Reagan lifted his infamous "I'm paying for this microphone' line in the 1980 primaries from Tracy's final outburst in "State of the Union." Make up your own mind on that one."
An underrated Frank Capra Gem...
Commander Adama | USA | 04/15/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""State of the Union" may not be one of Frank Capra's best films, nor is it the best pairing of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, one of Hollywood's greatest couples (both on-screen and in real life). However, it is still excellent entertainment, and it's also a great political satire that still resonates even today. Grant Matthews (Tracy) is a nationally-known, flamboyant businessman who has made a fortune building airplanes, and still flies them (and even jumps out of them playing "games" with other pilots to see who can parachute to the ground first). He is having an affair with Kay Thorndyke (a deliciously manipulative, cold-blooded and lovely Angela Lansbury), the powerful publisher/owner of a national chain of newspapers. The affair has caused him to separate from his wife (Hepburn), who still loves him and hopes that he comes to his senses regarding Kay. When Thorndyke is unable to force her will onto the leading candidates for the 1948 Republican presidential nomination, she decides to go all-out to make her lover Matthews the GOP's presidential candidate. She talks the reluctant Matthews into getting into politics by telling him that he "owes it" to the people to share his "idealism" and talents with them. Of course, behind the scenes she cares nothing for Matthews' high ideals - she intends to make him President and then control the nation through him. Instead, Kay hires a corrupt but experienced GOP political "boss" named Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou) to be Matthews' campaign manager. Conover clearly sees Matthews as merely a vehicle to regain power in Washington, and he also comes to see Matthews' idealism and honesty as an obstacle to his plans. Kay also hires her star reporter, the cynical but charming "Spike" McManus (a delightful Van Johnson) to be Matthews' press secretary. In a real show of chutzpah, Kay even convinces Matthews' estranged wife to stay with him on the campaign trail to present the image of a happily-married couple. As the plot develops, Matthews is slowly corrupted by Conover and his political cronies, but in the end his wife brings him back to his good senses. The film's climax - in which Matthews tries to deliver a speech announcing his presidential candidacy on national television while his angry, drunken wife gives his mistress a verbal thrashing - is one of the finest (and funniest) moments in any Hepburn-Tracy movie. As another reviewer pointed out, this film is what H. Ross Perot's first presidential campaign in 1992 could have been had he not turned out to be a few bricks shy of a full load. The notion of an idealistic and honest political "outsider" giving the corrupt "insiders" their comeuppance is an old but powerful theme in American politics - and Spencer Tracy's Grant Matthews is a perfect symbol of what we'd like for our leaders to be - honest, colorful, dynamic, idealistic, and more devoted to the good of the nation than to himself. Hopefully, someday we'll get leaders in real life who can match what we see on the movie screen. Until then, however, "State of the Union" makes a fine substitute. Recommended!"
Politics Hasn't Changed Much
James L. | 07/07/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"State of the Union takes a look at all the behind the scenes action that goes into the making a politician, such as the promises, deal making with interest groups, using the family in the campaign, etc. In other words, the same games being played even today in politics. It's the story of a businessman played by Spencer Tracy who gets talked into running for President, and along the way he loses his ideals and begins playing the games, under the familiar but false assumption that he'll just do it until he gets elected. Katharine Hepburn stars as his wife and conscience, a woman who wants him to speak the truth and say what's really on his mind, win or lose. Tracy and especially Hepburn are excellent in their roles, making a lot of dialogue sound fresh and real. Angela Lansbury is cold but convincing as a newspaper syndicate owner who is a behind the scenes player in the political game, pushing Tracy (with whom she's in love) into the presidential race. Van Johnson is a lot of fun as the aide with the dry sense of humour and realistic approach to everything. There's a good mix of laughs with dramatic moments, and surprisingly, the message behind the movie remains very current and rings true, over fifty years after the film was made. It would be interesting to watch this film along with some of the recent films made about politics and the White House."