This week, as part of Rep Diary, Film Comment's recurring series about old and obscure repertory film titles, Steven Mears takes a look at John Ford's 1958 film, The Last Hurrah:


A fascinating film to watch during election season, The Last Hurrah reminds us just how much of campaigning is political theater. We don't need director John Ford or screenwriter Frank Nugent to tell us that charisma counts for more than policy on the stump, but seeing a veteran actor take on the role of statesman affords a sense of balance in times when the inverse dominates the airwaves—and shows how actorly control (or calculated lack of it) undergirds every discerning campaign.

The superficially guileless star is an ideal choice for Skeffington, as shrewd a politico as Tracy was an actor. Skeffington works every angle clandestinely, listening with rapt attention, charming and manipulating all while feigning transparency—in both men's discharge of their duties, five or six things are always happening beneath the surface. Most scenes consist of Tracy entering a room and effectuating a desired outcome, and the actor uses every aspect of his mien to make this plausible. His attentive eyes are always reading the crowd—sometimes literally, when his irises shift in thought as he contemplates his next move. Even the tilt of his head is communicative: bowed slightly, doubling his chin, to show sympathy or condescension (the latter sometimes taking the pose of the former), or even righteousness depending on the angle. Whimsy and melancholy coalesce in his tone as he speaks confidingly of his methods, punctuating his cadence with redolent pauses ("I speak in fight arenas . . . armories . . . street corners . . . anywhere I can gather a crowd . . . I even kiss babies!").


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Published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center since 1962, Film Comment is a bimonthly magazine and daily website that features in-depth reviews, critical analysis, and feature coverage of mainstream, art-house, and avant-garde filmmaking from around the world.