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The Last Hurrah

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Irish Films Discussion:     The Last Hurrah

In THE LAST HURRAH, John Ford explores the quintessential Irish-American rogue: the big city politician. Widely believed to be based on the life of Boston mayor James Curley, THE LAST HURRAH stars Spencer Tracy (whom Ford discovered) as Mayor Frank Skeffington, the last of a dying breed of grassroots politicians. Facing a re-election challenge from a new kind of politician, the TV candidate, Skeffington pulls out all the stops in an old-fashioned, rip-roaring campaign which enrages the WASP establishment. Supported by a superb cast of character actors, including Pat O'Brien, John Carradine, Basil Rathbone and James Gleason (heralded at the time as the largest collection of scene-stealers ever assembled), Tracy gives a spellbinding performance in this frank and funny, and ultimately wrenching, portrait of a great man's final days.

"One of the most memorable performances of Spencer's career." -HOLLYWOOD REPORTER,

Comment: "The Last Hurrah" follows the exploits of mayor, Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy). He?s running for a third term but meets with great opposition from the city council, who don't appreciate his strong-arm tactics and chronic meddling in their affairs. The pack of detractors is led by Norman Cass Sr. (Basil Rathbone), whose youthful incumbent for the post of mayor, Kevin McCluskey (Charles B. Fitzsimmons) seems an impossible long shot. But Skeffington is not above dishing a little dirt of his own on the side. He 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 elements of city council opposing him, including news paper editor, Amos Force (John Carradine) to whom Skeffington?s nephew, Adam Caufield (Jeffrey Hunter) is an employee and sometimes unwilling observer. As Skeffington, 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 finely wrought cameos to go around, including Jane Darwell?s crotchety spinster, Anna Lee?s subtle and tender performance as the widow and Donald Crisp?s stoic turn as His Eminence, Cardinal Burke. This is one heck of a good show!
Instituted into the pipeline before Columbia's penny-pinching regime kicked in, "The Last Hurrah" has had admirable work done on its transfer before being minted to DVD. The gray scale is excellent and the anamorphic widescreen version of the movie is very nicely rendered with fine detail, solid blacks and contrast levels. There is a definite grain structure to this film but it will not distract from the performances. There are no compression related artifacts. The audio is MONO and nicely rendered.
There are, unfortunately, NO EXTRAS!

Summary The Last Hurrah: Worth viewing for Tracy
Comment: "The Last Hurrah" should be watched (more properly, "endured") for Spencer Tracy. It's not quite as mawkish and overly sentimental as some Boston Irish films, but close. Many of the scenes are just unbearably overlong and preachy. What saves it is one of Spencer Tracy's best performances: he's a model of restraint and dignity in a role that a lesser actor would have gone down for the third time in the sea of blarney. Very fine supporting cast, too, including every Irish character in the Hollywood at the time: Pat O'Brien, James Gleason, Donald Crisp, Frank McHugh, Edward S. Brophy, plus very substantial help from Basil Rathbone and John Carridine. Jeffrey Hunter, as Tracy's nephew, smirks his glamor-boy way through this film as a reminder that no cast is perfect. John Ford was definitely slipping here, unable to resist putting in incredibly broad characters like Tracy's and Rathbone's sons, who belong on The Simpsons, not in this film. Would have deserved two more stars at half its length.

The Last Hurrah Summary: One of John Ford's few duds
Comment: A strangely sluggish drama, starring Spencer Tracy as Frank Skeffington, an aging, old-school, ward-heeling Irish-American politico waging his final campaign against the nascent forces of the modern mass media -- namely, a callow young candidate backed by big money and a phalanx of television producers. What's most odd about this film is that John Ford directed it, and yet it's so dull and disjointed. And what, exactly, are they trying to say here? Is Tracy's character a scoundrel or a noble throwback to a simpler, more human time? Is he a little bit of both? And if so, what does that ambiguity mean? It's never quite clear what we're supposed to feel about Skeffington; clearly his enemies are horrible, shallow people, but the film is so fuzzy about how we're supposed to feel in constrast about Tracy's character -- who was roughly modeled on one of Boston's old mayor's -- that it's difficult to feel moved, or involved, one way or the other. Muddled and disappointing.

Summary The Last Hurrah: Still great despite a few weak points
Comment: Political dramas are not my favorite type of movie, but I still enjoyed this film, if for no other reason than I'm a big Tracy fan and this is certainly one of his greatest roles, and Tracy turns in one of his best performances.

The rest of the cast is also excellent, especially Jeffrey Hunter as Tracy's newspaperman nephew, and Edward Brophy as one of Tracy's cronies, both of whom get extensive play in the movie. Unfortunately, Donald Crisp as the Cardinal and Basil Rathbone don't have that much on-screen time, and Rathbone really only has one big scene and a couple of other pieces of dialogue here and there, as does Crisp, but they're still excellent in their roles.

A few scenes seem a little weak, such as when Tracy tricks Basil Rathbone's idiot son to accept the Fire Marshall job so he can blackmail Rathbone into ponying up the housing loan money. The TV interview with Tracy's young opponent was pretty silly, and I didn't think John Carradine was especially well cast as a former KKK member, magazine publisher, and Tracy's long-time nemesis.

Other than that, the film's portrayal of Tracy as a tough, smart, down-to-earth, old-time political boss (or as Donald Crisp refers to him--"an engaging scoundrel") is itself engagingly and humorously done. It provides a fascinating and perhaps nostalgic look at a vanished era of grass-roots politicians back when they stumped in the inner-city wards, shaking hands and kissing babies and vying for votes one-by-one the hard way before the advent of TV changed the political campaigning process forever.

Overall, still a great flick and especially worth seeing if you're a Spencer Tracy fan.

Comment The Last Hurrah: This is one of the best political genre films ever made. Spencer Tracey is at his very best as the down-to-earth mayor of small U.S. city. Corrupt city politics is displayed in a humorous fashion as Tracy's character seeks re-election, all the while being covered by a local newspaper reporter (his nephew portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter).

Tracy's acting ability shines here. The film is packed with Hollywood's best character actors, including Basil Rathbone and Pat O'Brian. This is a must see during election time.

I consider Spencer Tracy America's greatest actor, and I rate this in my top five of great Tracy films. This film, while dated, portrays old-time politics in a funny, yet truthful fashion. Also, Tracy's death-bed scene at the film's end, is one of Tracy's best acting moments. The movie is a pure joy to watch.

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