|'The Last Hurrah': Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Politics, But Were Told Not to Ask|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
01:43PM / Thursday, September 10, 2020
I wish that I were reviewing one of the half-dozen movies certain to be made when this pox upon our house is no more. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, like going to the movies, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.
Owing to a perhaps purposeful ambiguity regarding our sense of wrong and right, an attribute oddly waylaid during our evolution from lizard to what we now deem as human, we cannot, as Jack Nicholson's Col. Nathan Jessup contended in "A Few Good Men" (1992), handle the truth.
This doubtlessly really bummed out Socrates, Plato and the rest of the truth-is-beauty gang.
Dedicated to our perfection, they probably got the inkling of said innate fallibility when they realized that droves of our species would rather gluttonously quaff mead and eat whatever lamb hadn't yet been sacrificed than contemplate morality and how to serve the commonweal.
Spencer Tracy's Mayor Frank Skeffington (long assumed to be based on Boston's Mayor James M. Curley), the last of the old-time, big-city politicians, running for one final term in director John Ford's "The Last Hurrah" (1958) knows full well the delusions, fears and general ignorance that colors the electoral choices of the Great Unwashed.
He's made a living from it. Still, factoring in the reality of the dynamic and the empathetic heart that we're convinced beats within the successful, pragmatic leader, he is a sympathetic character.
Indeed, the son of poor, Irish immigrants commands the political machine he scratched out from nothing, replete with a gaggle of Runyonesque hangers-on, operatives and boosters, played by some of Hollywood's most endearing character actors. And he lives in a fine home of the sort where his Mom once did the cooking and cleaning. But if Frank Skeffington has lined his pockets, he hasn't been a pig about it.
Most telling is a condolence call to Gert Minihan's home where his attendance assures a big turnout, the wake doubling as a campaign opportunity. The bounteous flowers, food and funeral arrangements courtesy of the gentle pressure Frank applies to the favor-owing vendors heartens the gracious widow, especially since she was correctly under the impression that her deceased spouse, Knocko, didn't have the best of reputations.
And just to put a cherry atop His Honor's Robin Hood style of political savvy, before leaving he hands Mrs. Minihan a generous check, informing that his saintly, departed wife had years ago left instructions to do so in such an event.
Trailing along as scribe and witness to the flourishes and stratagems of the mayor's proclaimed last hurrah is Jeffrey Hunter as his nephew, the reportorial Adam Caulfield who has ties to the other side of the tracks courtesy of the comely, upper-crust Maeve Caulfield, née Sugrue. While decidedly more liberal than her bitterly anti-Skeffington dad, Roger, hubby's recently closer association with the controversial figure does test the depths of her class consciousness.
Thus, in addition to the primer on power, privilege and the currying of societal advantage, Mr. Ford's expertly filmed study wraps it all into a poignant stab at the inequities perpetrated by the evil forces of bigotry. While remaining unfortunately apropos to any time in history, the whys, wherefores and wiles of governmental chicanery are especially illustrative of our present crisis.
Given the psychological mysteries that command the decision-making processes of an electorate still steeped in authoritarian indoctrination and naively illogical about the actual properties of democracy, Frank Skeffington's political tightrope act eloquently rationalizes his case for dispensation.
Whether byproduct or primary aim, there is recognizable service and principle.
Whereas the criminal enterprise currently clawing for another four years of ransacking America's democratic institutions and pursuing a grand kleptomania that stops just short of backing up a truck to Fort Knox, makes no secret of its implied guarantee: The white race will remain dominant; the same 1/10th of 1 percent will continue to control the country's wealth; and the complicit, sycophantic base will be fed the same myth of superiority that's worked for the ruling class since way before the Southern plantation owners used it on their slave-driving overseers.
It's cheap, divisive, and keeps two levels of the underclass in tow. Inequitably overtax the bourgeoisie and there you've funded your dominion. It's old school. When you're the minority that's been in power since time immemorial, you get rather canny at controlling the majority.
It's a deceit upon humanity that monarchs honed to near perfection and bequeathed to their kindred successors. They in turn found the artifice could be refashioned for equivalent, perfidious use in the new, constitutional governments that were supposed to end the reign of kings. I don't know how to say it in Latin, but beware schlock furniture stores and governments that proclaim, "Under New Management."
Frank Skeffington's supporters, hip to the jive, pocket their cynicism, accepting that in order to wrest some of the goodies from the Brahmins, who all but claim a divine right to the public coffer, their man will have to fight fire with fire, and get a little down and dirty. And if he draws his percentage for keeping the wolf at bay, so be it. Our trust that at least he'll be taking with only one hand and not two earns him "The Last Hurrah."
"The Last Hurrah," a Columbia Pictures release directed by John Ford, stars Spencer Tracy, Jeffrey Hunter and Dianne Foster. Running time: 121 minutes