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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