Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Spencer Tracy
THE LAST HURRAH (1958). Director: John Ford.

Mayor Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy) runs for one last term, and is up against a younger family man (Charles B. Fitzsimons) who seems the pawn of more experienced politicians. Frank's son, Junior (Arthur Walsh), is a fifties-type jazz baby who has little interest in politics or much else. Frank is closer to his nephew, Adam (Jeffrey Hunter), whose boss at a newspaper, Amos Force (John Carradine), and father-in-law Roger Sugure (Willis Bouchey), both detest Frank. Frank is an old-fashioned Irish-American politician who has survived decades due to his old cronies who love him, but it's a new world out there and Frank may get a surprise on election night ... The Last Hurrah could be picked apart on certain levels -- the characterization is quite superficial at times --  but it works because of its acting and Ford's smooth, professional direction. Tracy is excellent, and he gets fine support from Hunter, Walsh, Carradine, and especially Basil Rathbone in a scene-stealing turn as a banker who comes afoul of Frank and vice versa. (The whole sequence with Rathbone's lisping, clearly mentally-deficient son, who is cruelly used to blackmail Rathbone, is in questionable taste, to say the least.) Other cast stand-outs include Ricardo Cortez as Sam, the campaign manager; Donald Crisp as the cardinal; Basil Ruysdael as Bishop Gardner; and Jane Darwell as Delia Boylan, whose chief occupation seems to be to go to funerals and cackle. Edward Brophy [Romance on the Run] is also notable as "Ditto," Frank's old pal, a rather sad figure (whom we learn little about) who's given the last appearance in the picture. Anna Lee [Summer Storm] scores as Gert, a widow, in one of the film's most interesting sequences. Gert keeps repeating "he was a good man, Frank, a good man," when it's clear that her husband didn't even bother to see how she would get along after his death and left no insurance. Bob Sweeney is fine as a funeral director, as are Ken Curtis [Don Daredevil Rides Again] as Monsignor Killian, Dianne Foster as Adam's conflicted wife, and Frank Albertson as the opponent's manager, Jack Mangan. O. Z. Whitehead is quite good in the thankless role of Rathbone's son, Norman Jr. Harry Lauter, Edmund Lowe, Tom Neal; William Hudson all have smaller, generally non-speaking roles. Spencer Tracy was only 58 when  he did this picture, but looks years older, and his character was actually 72 in Edward O'Connor's source novel. Sure, make up could have been used to make Tracy look older, but I think years of heavy drinking had taken their toll.

Verdict: An excellent lead performance and a smooth production make this worthwhile. ***.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - this is indeed a good one, chock full of performances by great character actors under master John Ford's steady hand...Ned to see this again soon.

Wow, but Tracy really started to seem elderly in the 1950s, as you note---I can't believe he is only in his 50s here. His performances got stronger and stronger as his body became weaker and weaker due to lifelong alcoholism.
- Chris

William said...

Yes, it's weird how some heavy drinkers, who by all rights shouldn't even be able to perform, sort of wind up "pickled" or preserved, as it were, in alcohol. They look terrible, their bodies are in sad shape, but somehow that talent perseveres, as it did with Tracy, John Barrymore and many others. Talent will out, as they say, but what a heavy toll!