Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Last Hurrah (1958)

Or "the last HOO-rah," as Spencer Tracy said it in the flick.

Long-time readers may remember that I've been reading, off and on, classic American political novels (suggestions welcome), and if possible following up with the movie.

One of the first books I read, which I seem not to have blogged about, was The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor. It's about an old-style Irish-American city politician (read "Boston" and a real mayor named Curley) who fights and loses his last campaign to a young nobody with a good-for-TV face and lots of establishment money behind him. And then he dies.

Skeffington (as the mayor is called in the book) knows that it's his last go, win or lose, and confides in his nephew about who he rose from the slums to be a champion of the old immigrant population. The reader enjoys the tour of the city and witnesses the obsolescent ward-heeling style of politics with the nephew, and has the additional pleasure of having it told in the best Irish English -- not music-hall brogues, but the real eloquence. Not as good as All the King's Men (what is?), but plenty good.

The movie is also a treat. Reasons? Directed by John Ford in a largely faithful manner, with Spencer Tracy as Skeffington. Tracy does it perfectly. With due respect to the rest of the cast, Tracy plays the role of Edwin O'Connor's prose and dialogue, and is up to the task.

Image: Tracy caricatured by Hirschfeld, the famous New Yorker magazine artist.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

I decided to read some classic American political novels a few days ago and began with All the King's Men.

Wow! Wow! Nobody ever told me that such writing existed!

For instance, when the narrator, a reporter named Jack Burden, first meets Willie Stark, a smalltown guy who knows nothing about anything, yet:

"The editor told me to find out," I said, "and why he wants me to find out only God knows. Maybe it is because it is news."

That seemed to be enough to satisfy him. So I didn't tell him that beyond my boss the managing director there was a great high world of reasons but to a fellow like me down in the ditch it was a world of flickering diaphanous spirit wings and faint angel voices that I didn't always savvy and stellar influences.
Jack Burden sure does write nice. It's because he's a historian, or at least someone who almost finished a Ph.D. in history:

And he told me to dig it [a scandal] out, dig it up, the dead cat with patches of fur still clinging to the tight, swollen, dove-gray hide. It was a proper job for me, for, as I have said, I was once a student of history. A student of history does not care what he digs out of the ash pile, the midden, the sublunary dung heap, which is the human past. He doesn't care whether it is the dead pussy or the Kohinoor diamond.

See this comment from the Internet Movie Database on the 1949 movie version for cogent remarks from 2000.

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