The Best Man (1964)

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By Scott Ross

Gore Vidal’s comedie a clef is the best political play ever created by an American writer, which sounds like damning with faint praise but isn’t. Wisely, Vidal produced the movie version to protect his writing, and the result is a honey. It’s about compromise, rumor, character, innuendo and self-aggrandizement — everything we expect from national politics — itself done, miraculously, without compromise.

Henry Fonda is the flawed but honest Presidential hopeful, Cliff Robertson his Nixon-like opponent, and Lee Tracy is the Trumanesque former President. The dialogue is among the smartest ever heard in an American movie, and the points Vidal scores are, sadly, still relevant. On the distaff side, Margaret Leighton and Edie Adams provide superbly rendered portraits of, respectively, disgust and unbridled ambition. With Shelly Berman as the ultimate middle-class hypocrite fame-fucker.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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