Thursday, September 18, 2008
THE LAST HARRAH looking back at a great film by JOHN FORD based on the O'Connor novel
• SPENCER TRACY IN “THE LAST HURRAH” –a story of American politics
• DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD (FOUR OSCARS BEST DIRECTOR)
• With a splendid cast of supporting actors some of whom are among the most famous of the 20th century such as Basel Rathbone (Robin Hood), Jeffery Hunter (The Searchers), Donald Crisp How Green was my Valley, John Caradine (The Grapes of Wrath)
• BASED ON THE CELEBRATED NOVEL by EDWIN O’CONNOR 1956 bestseller
• Edwin O'Connor, The Last Hurrah (Boston, 1956)
ISBN 0316626597 (Paperback edition)
• He wrote another fine book the Edge of Sadness (1961) about an aging priest.
MAIN CHARCTERS IN “THE LAST HURRAH”
• Frank Skeffington (SPENCER TRACY) is the INCUMBENT mayor of an unnamed city as well as a former governor of the state. He is usually called by the honorific title "Governor." He is a widower and he does not have a close relationship with his son who is a party animal. He represents the Irish Catholic Democratic party machine politicians who dominated big city politics in Boston , New York and Chicago from the 1870’s until the 1960’sSkeffington, is 72 and has been giving signs that he might consider retiring from public life at the end of his current term, surprises many by announcing what he had always intended to do It is commonly believed that the character of Skeffington is based on the person of historical James Michael Curley(1874–1958).
• The Irish-born Cardinal is a (DONALD CRISP) in the Roman Catholic Church; he grew up with Frank in the inner city slums. Hebelieves that Skeffington has disgraced his religion, his fellow Irish-Americans, and his office.
SKEFFINGTON’S PEOPLE (his inner circle)
1)Sam Weinberg, one of Skeffington's advisers, is Jewish and a shrewd political observer; he is wary about Skeffington's chances for re-election. Until recently most Jewish voters were associated with the Democratic party due to their immigrant background and anti-Semitism of some “country club “ Republicans.
2) John Gorman,another of Skeffington’s advisers, is a senior ward boss and a master politician; he is torn between his faith in Skeffington and his cold-eyed political realism.
3) Ditto Boland is an ardent supporter of Skeffington. Like many of Skeffington's acolytes, he does his best to mimic his hero's dress, manner of speaking, and personality. He has so few views of his own that he has won the nickname "Ditto" from Skeffington, a nickname that he accepts with pride because his hero has conferred it on him. Nobody remembers his real first name any longer, and even he seems not to use it.
4) HIS NEPHEW: Adam Caulfield (JEFFREY HUNTER) ( is Frank Skeffington Senior's nephew and a cartoonist for a local newspaper, where he draws a comic strip that he created, "Little Simp." He is 33 years old. He genuinely loves his uncle event though his young wife Maeve Caulfield and her father Roger Sugrue, does not. Maeve is a very Irish Gaelic name. Many of the characters are Irish Catholics.
5) HIS SON: Frank Skeffington Jr. is the son of the mayor, Frank Skeffington senior. He is a disappointment to his father, as he has no ambition and seems only to be interested in dancing and socializing.
HIS ENEMIES and RIVALS
• Norman Cass, Sr. (BASEL RATHBONE) An old Yankee, presumably of the Republican party who supports Skeffington’s opponent out of a spirit of revenge, envy and hatred.
• Norman Cass, Jr (his silly son; a weak pathetic figure.
• Amos Force (John Caradine) Amos Force another venerable Yankee, that is WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) is the publisher of the leading newspaper in the city; for an array of reasons -- personal, political, bigotry, and family -- Force loathes Skeffington and is committed to seeing him lose his latest campaign for re-election as Mayor.
• His OPPONENT Kevin McCluskey, Skeffington's designated political opponent, a young and handsome veteran of World War II with virtually no political experience. He is probably based on future president John F. Kennedy, who succeeded Curley as congressman from Boston's 11th district in 1946.
NOTES: The is a faithful adaptation of the book which despite its setting in the 1950’s, seems to evoke an early era such as the 1930’s or 1940’s. For example, there is no evidence of Puerto Rican emigration (very heavy in the 1950’s) and there are virtually no black characters (very typical of many movies of the 1950’s). There are ethnic immigrant characters –Jewish and Italian- but once again the ethnic patterns mirror 1920-1950 America. So even when the movie was made (1958) this part of the movie was dated. On the other hand JOHN FORD was a master movie-maker and he makes FRANK SKEFFINGTON and his circle come alive. He updates the book by anticipating the impact of TELEVISION ON American politics. Today we have the internet and cable television so in a way THE LAST HURRAH is a historical document of an era that is gone. But on the other hand politics is politics. It is getting PEOPLE to listen to you, to like you and above all TO VOTE FOR YOU. To win you need MONEY, YOU NEED SUPPORTERS and YOU NEED the machinery of a POLITICAL PARTY. The first quality any politician has to have is not being handsome, not being wise but GETTING VOTES. RICHARD K. MUNRO September 19, 2008
QUESTIONS The Last Hurrah
1) Frank Skeffington is the incumbent mayor . What does that mean?
2) How do Frank and his cronies APPEAL TO THE ELECTORATE?
3) Why is Mr. Boland have the nickname of “Ditto”?
4) Frank Skeffington is the main character but most of the story is told from the view point of which character?
5) The main body of the novel gives a detailed and insightful view of urban American politics, tracking Skeffington and his nephew Adam through rounds of campaign appearances and events. Describe some of the main events of the campaign:
6) Is Frank the main character viewed sympathetically?
7) Some political campaigns have been marred with corruption, intimidation and violence. There is great rivalry between the parties but they all seem to play by the rules or the SOCIAL CONTRACT. Nonetheless, there are some political “dirty tricks”, What Name some of the “dirty tricks” the politicians use to influence the election.
8) Are there any similarities between this campaign and the 2008 presidential campaign?
9) If Barrack Obama were to see this movie (he probably has) what do you think would be one of his reactions?
10) What is the result of the election? What happens to Frank?