Cinema Arlecchino > 15:00



Saturday 29/08/2020


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Maude Findlay, an independent-minded woman from Tuckahoe, NY, came up with the title for this film series 48 years ago. She may have been a fictional character with a sitcom named after her, but the man of her dreams and her choice for the 1976 US presidential election was the resolutely real Henry Fonda. Thus, Fonda, as himself, must visit her family home to give her the honest truth (by way of Herman Melville’s Bartleby): “I would prefer not to”. Maude’s campaign implodes and so do the fantasies of half the nation. The fun to be had in this TV episode turns slightly bitter not just because Maude falls into a depression as her dream is denied but also because Fonda and his old friend Norman Lear, the creator of Maude (1972-78), could only see their gambit as an ‘unrealistic’ joke. Today, the fictional Maude’s campaign for a Fonda presidential run belongs to the rubric of alternate history, but by the 1970s her kind of imagination had already become a real motor for electoral strategies, and a much lesser screen icon than Fonda would soon ride that engine straight into the White House. “Reagan is a major concern”, said Fonda, a year before his death on 12 August 1982, in his last interview with Lawrence Grobel. “I think we’re headed for disaster. I’m surprised there isn’t more opposition. He’s got us on a path now that we’re gonna be on for a long time. He says the things people want to hear. He says them very convincingly and with what sounds like sincerity and he’s talking a language that people haven’t heard for a long time and it impresses them. I listen to a Reagan speech and want to throw up!”.

Alexander Howarth

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Norman Lear. Scen.: Jay Folb. Scgf.: Edward Stephenson. Mus.: Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Dave Grusin. Int.: Bea Arthur (Maude Findlay), Bill Macy (Walter Findlay), Adrienne Barbeau (Carol Traynor), Conrad Bain (Dr. Arthur Harmon), Rue McClanahan (Vivian Cavender Harmon), Hermione Baddeley (Mrs. Nell Naugatuck), Henry Fonda (se stesso), Joe Montell (Gus), Tim O’Connor Dr. Herbert Lester). Prod.: CBS. DCP da Dvd. D.: 25’. Col. 



Film Notes

In The Dream Life, his book about the mythology of the 1960s, J. Hoberman describes a career arc and a political one: “Fonda tracked the trajectory of tormented liberalism as he failed upward in what might be called his JFK trilogy. Defeated in his bid to become secretary of state in [Otto Preminger’s] Advise and Consent, Fonda appeared in that position in The Best Man; rejected in that movie as a presidential nominee, he returned, in time for the 1964 election, as Fail-Safe’s agonised Doomsday leader”. A film about personal morality and politics in the Society of the Spectacle, The Best Man is dominated not only by the Fonda image and his legacy of supporting progressive Democrats including Helen Gahagan Douglas and Adlai Stevenson, but also by the voice of Gore Vidal – the dense fabric created by his dialogue, his caustic humour, his shameless compression of diverse political issues into the few days of a party convention. Luckily, the project lost its original director, Frank Capra, whose lowbrow ideas for the film had deeply disturbed Vidal. (There is still a wonderful whiff of early Capra in the figure of the former President: as played by pre-code motor-mouth Lee Tracy, he’s a clever relic from the ‘age of the great hicks’). Complementing Vidal’s political expertise, two media-savvy collaborators were hired instead. Director Franklin J. Schaffner was rather new to cinema but had supervised and directed many political programmes during his 15 years on TV – from conventions to Jackie Kennedy’s tour of the White House. And cinematographer Haskell Wexler would later make Medium Cool, his own late-60s masterpiece about a Democratic convention. Starting out as a riff on the Drew-Leacock type of embedded Direct Cinema (their ‘JFK classic’ Primary was shot just as Vidal’s original play The Best Man became a hit during the 1960 primaries), the film ends with Fonda updating Ford’s notion of ‘glory in defeat’ to the 60s: a double-edged, half-smug, half-conscientious sarcasm in defeat. – “I’m of course happy that the best man won”.

Alexander Howarth

Cast and Credits

Sog.: from the eponimous play (1960) by Gore Vidal. Scen.: Gore Vidal. F.: Haskell Wexler. M.: Robert Swink. Scgf.: Lyle Wheeler. Mus.: Mort Lindsey. Int.: Henry Fonda (William Russell), Cliff Robertson (Joe Cantwell), Edie Adams (Mabel Cantwell), Margaret Leighton (Alice Russell), Shelley Berman (Sheldon Bascomb), Lee Tracy (Art Hockstader), Ann Sothern (Sue Ellen Gamadge), Gene Raymond (Don Cantwell), Kevin McCarthy (Dick Jensen), Mahalia Jackson (se stessa). Prod.: Stuart Millar, Lawrence Turman per Millar/Turman Productions. 35mm. D.: 102’. Bn.