John Ford’s The Last Hurrah (1958) is a superbly crafted political melodrama that follows the exploits of Irish American charmer, Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy). Running for his third term as mayor, Frank meets with overwhelming opposition from a corrupt city council who don't appreciate his strong-arm tactics and chronic meddling in their backroom intrigues.
The pack of Skeffington’s detractors is led by Norman Cass Sr. (Basil Rathbone), whose youthful incumbent Kevin McCluskey (Charles B. Fitzsimmons) seems an impossible long shot. Cass and his cronies start off by pitching McCluskey to the public as a model of the spotless all-American family man. But McCluskey’s lack of experience in the political arena is rife with possibilities for exploitation that Frank is all too willing to take advantage.
Not above dishing a little dirt of his own, Skeffington uses incriminating photos of Cass’s simpleton son, Norman Jr. (O.Z. Whitehead) to blackmail Cass Sr. into relative submission. Skeffington also gingerly berates the rest of city council opposing him, including newspaper editor, Amos Force (John Carradine) to whom Skeffington’s nephew, Adam Caufield (Jeffrey Hunter) is an employee and sometimes unwilling observer.
The rouse works but only temporarily. Skeffington loses to McCluskey by a narrow margin, in many ways signalling an end to the days when politics was decided on merit rather than propaganda and muck-raking. Skeffington suffers a heart attack and dies, knowing that his legacy as a political giant has come to a end first.
The Last Hurrah is poignantly wrought entertainment with its message tucked neatly beneath its pure entertainment value. Ford, who was never big on 'teaching' his audiences anything, nevertheless managed to illustrate a fundamental truth about life and politics. That both are subject to ever-evolving change and not always for the better.
As Skeffington, Spencer Tracy is pure dynamite, delving out equal portions of brutality and kindness in a tour de force performance that quite easily might be his best. There are plenty of fine cameos to go around, including Jane Darwell’s crotchety spinster, Anna Lee’s tender widow, and, Donald Crisp’s stoic turn as His Eminence, Cardinal Burke. Buttressed by a fine cast and Frank S. Nugent’s adroit screenplay, director Ford delivers a quietly compelling minor saga of a political veteran losing ground in the twilight of his years.
Sony Home Entertainment’s DVD is quite impressive; anamorphic and with a refined gray scale exhibiting solid deep blacks and almost pristine whites. There is a definite grain structure to this film, and age related artifacts are present throughout. The audio is MONO and nicely rendered. Unfortunately, there are NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)