The Last Hurrah (1958)
The Last Hurrah (1958)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 1 min.

Release Date: October 23rd, 1958 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: John Ford Actors: Spencer Tracy, Jeffrey Hunter, Dianne Foster, Pat O’Brien, Basil Rathbone, Donald Crisp, James Gleason, Edward Brophy, John Carradine, Wallace Ford, Frank McHugh, Carleton Young

 


 

M

ayor Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy) seeks re-election for a fifth term in an unspecified New England city. His team of advisors go over the three other candidates, fairly certain that they’ll be of no trouble to Frank’s campaign. Batty loyalist Ditto (Edward Brophy, providing exceptional comic relief), who always seems to have anecdotal information on everyone, confusingly briefs them about contender Kevin McCluskey, but the only real struggle will be against publisher Amos Force (John Carradine), who is determined to do everything in his power – primarily through his newspaper – to destroy Skeffington’s mayoral aspirations.

One of Amos’ most read reporters, sportswriter Adam Caulfield (Jeffrey Hunter), happens to be Frank’s nephew, putting the young man in a bit of a spot when it comes to rooting for or against his uncle. But Frank invites Adam to cover this final drive, documenting from time to time the goings-on of the greatest of spectator sports: politics. And Adam is intrigued, accepting the offer to learn a bit more about the inner workings of election fever – and to be the viewpoint of disillusionment when sordid details inevitably surface.

“I even kiss babies.” There’s a striking partisanship surrounding the race, though it’s not concerning political parties as much as the polarization of the individuals running – and their religious and cultural ties. Plenty of people have picked sides without holding all the facts, choosing either old-fashioned but presumed ineffective (and corrupt) Skeffington or literally anyone else – whoever can unseat the incumbent. It’s not about favoring a particular challenger’s policies or promises or perspectives; it’s about voting for or against the current mayor.

“Frank Skeffington is available to every man and woman in this state.” Fascinatingly, the script doesn’t immediately reveal clues as to the leading politician’s level of righteousness. Only through tinier interactions is the audience steadily informed about the wheeling and dealing of the influential figure. Expectedly, however, when it comes to politicians, no one is squeaky clean. Nothing is off limits where accruing votes is at stake, and the right amount of spin can transform questionable gatherings into acts of generosity.

“The Last Hurrah” is full of eccentric characters, many of whom appear exaggerated but are likely quite abundant in the world of politics. Yet even with the over-the-top roles and the star power of character actors like Basil Rathbone, Donald Crisp, and Pat O’Brien (along with the likes of the lesser known yet just as prolific Wallace Ford, Frank McHugh, and Carleton Young), it’s the underhanded tactics employed by Skeffington that become most engrossing. Tracy is sensational as the two-faced officeholder, exhibiting just the right combination of calmness and hostility and deception.

Adding to that are some hysterical scenes of bungled election tactics, though these tend to get countered by the numerous, only slightly satirized nods to real-life, bleak truths about municipal contests – elements that stay relevant even as modernization and technology have reshaped the little particulars about the various processes. Unfortunately, the final act drags, shifting away from statecraft to focus on health issues, which spoils the momentum and alters the direction; it’s too easy an out for such a complicated character. “At least you’ll concede he’s the lesser of two evils.”

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10