The Best Man (1964) Film Review

The Best Man

This 1964 American political drama, beautifully directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (his greatest achievement, I think) is adapted by Gore Vidal from his 1960 play of the same title. The film boasts three outstanding performances:

Henry Fonda as former Secretary of State and presidential candidate William Russell.

Cliff Robertson as Senator and presidential candidate Joe Cantwell.

Lee Tracy as former President Art Hockstader (Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor).

The action unfolds at the nominating convention center in Los Angeles. Neither Fonda’s Russell nor Robertson’s Cantwell can stand each other and neither believes his rival qualifies to be president. Both desperately lobby for the support of the dying former president Hockstader who prefers Russell but worries about his indecision and principles and despises Cantwell but appreciates his toughness and willingness to do whatever it takes.

Both Fonda (who had just played a similar but more ambiguous role in “Advice and Consent” in 1962) and Robertson are superb (I think it’s Robertson’s best performance) and pre-code Warner Bros. stalwart Tracy, in his last film, makes a stunning return to the screen and was rewarded with a well-deserved Oscar Nomination.

With Margaret Leighton as Mrs. Russell and Edie Adams as Mrs. Cantwell.

The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography of a spectacularly clean and futuristic Los Angeles is by the master Haskell Wexler.


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