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A Modern Look at Robert Redford’s 1972 Classic, ‘The Candidate’

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Director Michael Ritchie talks to Robert Redford on the set of 'The Candidate.' USA, 1972. (Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Director Michael Ritchie talks to Robert Redford on the set of ‘The Candidate,’ 1972 (Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

 

The Candidate tells the story of an idealist named Bill McKay who runs for a seemingly unwinnable U.S. Senate seat under the condition he will always be true to himself. While he ultimately—spoiler alert for those yet to see it—wins the office, the race changes him, as he instinctively starts to censor himself to be a stronger candidate. In the wake of one of the most jarring elections in American history, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Galloway revisited the film with its screenwriter, Jeremy Larner.

Larner, now 79, had actually abandoned the film business for a fellowship at the Harvard Institute of Politics shortly before he was contacted by director Michael Ritchie and actor Robert Redford. Redford, who had made Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—but was yet to begin a run of ’70s smashes including The Way We Were, The Sting, and All the President’s Men—had just enough clout to get a film produced. Together, they made a movie that struck audiences as delightfully outlandish but surprisingly grounded in reality. (A bizarre moment where Redford is punched while campaigning actually happened to Eugene McCarthy in 1968.)

The Candidate hit theaters not long before the reelection of President Richard Nixon and has had an influence on the political process that its liberal creators could never have envisioned. Indeed, the Republican former Vice President Dan Quayle once said the film inspired him to get into politics. (“I had to write an op-ed in The New York Times because of it,” Larner notes. “I wrote, ‘Dear Mr. Quayle, this is not a how-to film, it’s a watch-out film—and you are what we have to watch out for.'”)

Galloway notes the most interesting aspect of how we view The Candidate 44 years later is that it was originally intended as a cautionary tale for both parties about how politics transforms a person. Yet watching it in 2016, it’s easy for Democrats and Republicans alike to say, “I wish somebody like that would run for office.”

To read the full article, click here. Below, watch the original trailer.