Friday, December 7, 2012


Campaign staff, David (Chris Pray) & Nancy & Bill McKay (Karen Carlson & Robert Redford)
The year before American Graffiti was released a low-budget film called The Candidate (1972) made it's appearance in theaters. With Presidential elections now a month behind us, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about this excellent film and how it ties in with the American Graffiti theme of my blog. The Candidate is a movie about an idealistic young lawyer who decides to run for the United States Senate and is so convinced that he will lose that he pledges complete honesty in his political campaign.  I first saw The Candidate when it aired on TV several years after it's premier in the theaters.  As I was flipping through the channels on our familys' crappy little portable 12" black and white RCA television, I had accidently came upon a station when it was airing the film.  I instantly recognized several of the character actors who had also appeared in Graffiti. And, as I viewed the film I exclaimed something such as, "Look, look!," to my younger and less enthusiastic sister, Kary,  At the time, my sister's apathy reminded me that not everyone shared my avid preoccupied interest in George Lucas' nostalgic film.  It wouldn't be 'till many years later that I would meet many like-minded souls, who had been similarly affected by the film in strange and wonderful ways.  And, so it is today, I can bring to you a look at four San Francisco, Bay Area actors in The Candidate, who less than a year later were featured in Lucas' ode to his teenage years. And, I  know, full well, that many will enjoy and appreciate this post. More similarities include the fact that  the Transportation Manager for both The Candidate and Graffiti was none other than Henry Travers and Director, George Lucas' (now ex) wife, Marcia Lucas was an editor on both films.  This film is truly a regular "who's-who" of American Graffiti talent.  And now,  to quote the legendary Jackie Gleason, And, awaaaaay we go:

In American Graffiti actor Chris Pray was Milner's pal, Al who asked if Milner could spot weld the bumper bracket on his Mopar.
In The Candidate, Pray plays David, a political campaign staff member.  He has much more screen time but only a few lines. In this scene, California lawyer Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is approached by Democratic political expert, Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) and asked to run for the U.S.Senate.
Lucas gives McKay a proposition: He can't win since the race is already decided, so he is free to campaign saying exactly what he wants. Reluctant at first, the idealistic McKay eventually agrees to run - not to win, but only to bring vital issues before the voters.
During a rehearsal for a press conference David (Chris Pray) asks McKay how he feels about abortion to which he unequivocally replies that he’s for a woman’s right to choose.  However, McKay is quickly admonished and told that he can't say that.
Terry McGovern played the young hip teacher in Graffiti who briefly tries to talk Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) out of his uncertainty about going to college back East.  Wasn't that a neat film?, McGovern recalls,  My scenes are still in there, my two little scenes, because they are pivotal. You kind of don't know what's happening unless you see that scene.

McKay campaigns across the state, as his message grows more generic each day. This approach raises him in the opinion polls.  McGovern (left) has a cameo in The Candidate where he plays one of the many reporters following the potential Senator around and bombarding him with questions.  

At the time The Candidate & Graffiti were filmed McGovern was a popular San Francisco, Bay Area radio personality on KSFO. I grew up in the Bay Area town of Redwood City and I fondly recall hearing McGovern's show emanating from my Dad's clock radio on most weekday mornings. He has the perfect voice for radio. At right is a newspaper ad from when McGovern first started at KSFO in 1969. He remembers, Interestingly enough, here I was, a kid, I'm twenty-three years old there, but I was playing music to people ten or fifteen years older than me.

George Meyer played the bum in Graffiti who takes Toad's money, buys wine with the cash and then slips out the back door.

In The Candidate George Meyer is an obnoxious, opinionated stranger who, in the above shot, appears to be staring at McKay's junk as he uses the urinal.  Initially,  his motivation is not clear, but then it becomes obvious that he wants to harass McKay and tell him he thinks he's a crappy politician. He yells, "McKay! . You're shit and you know you're shit!"
The post-primary victory banquet features a cool cameo appearance from Natalie Wood (as herself). She and McKay discuss yogurt, with her suggesting he try putting fresh fruit in it while cameras flash and reporters flock to her side to ask her questions.


 Once it appears that McKay may have a chance at winning the election, the incumbent, Republican Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) agrees to a televised debate.  Jarmon implies that he will encourage industry despite the damage that it causes to the environment and stresses that he will work to shrink big government and reduce welfare. When McKay is given one minute to sum up his argument, after many moments of canned answers, he chooses to call attention to the subjects that didn’t come up instead of repeating his position.  He raises the importance of things that matter such as issues of race, poverty and hatred. He acknowledges that we live in a society divided by fear, hatred and violence and states that until we talk about what this society really is he doesn’t know how we’re going to change it. 

After the live televised debate, his campaign staffers congratulate him. The guy in the center is actor Morgan Upton as Wally Henderson.
Upton would later portray Mr. Hunt of the Hunt Bros. Racing Team in the Graffiti sequel, More American Graffiti.  

Towards the end of the film, we see the campaign staffers in a plush hotel room scarfing down room service food as they review the details for McKay's motorcade parade in San Francisco. John Brent asks the all important question, "Can we get this straight? [The room grows seriously silent] Who has the medium-rare?"

A year later John Brent shaved his side burns and cut his hair to become the obnoxious used car salesman in Graffiti who tries to get Toad to trade-in his beautiful white Impala for a Corvette.

So, will McKay win the Senate seat? What will happen? 

Last Thoughts:
The Candidate is a fantastic political satire with a central theme of winning and what systems control peoples’ lives to produce winners.  Director, Michael Ritchie did a great job at revealing the superficial nature of American politics and also demonstrating how a person’s integrity and good intentions can get lost when they become obsessed with winning.  Appearing in every scene, Robert Redford renders an impressive performance. The Cinéma Vérité style of the film is very appealing.  Examples of this almost-documentary style are seen in the locations for the film that are actual surroundings throughout the state of California. A homemade feel is implied with shaky, hand-held cameras that are often employed to follow and capture the action in scenes filled with real politicians and members of the media who play themselves.  All the political issues in the film are the same ones that were debated in the 1972 elections and the issues addressed in this incredible 40-yr-old film are still relevant today.  The picture won a Best Writing Academy Award for Jeremy Larner.  It was also nominated for Best Sound.  In 1972 it was chosen as one of the 10 Best films of the Year by the National Board of Review.   


  • 45th Academy Awards (1973) Nominees and Winners.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences website.  Retrieved 10/19/2012.   
  • The BARD Interview: Terry McGovern Bay Area Radio Digest 1990. Bay Area Radio Museum website. Retrieved 10/17/2012. 
  • Calvita, Marco. (November 2001). The Candidate: An Ellulian Response to McGinniss’s The Selling of the President 1968.  Counterblast: The e-Journal of Culture and Communication, v.1, n.1  Retrieved 10/19/2011.
  • The Candidate (1972) DVD.  Design & supplementary summary. 1997 Warner Home Video
  • International Movie Data Base. Retrieved 10/16/2012.
  • Speller, Katherine. (12/28/2000). Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment.  Senses of Cinema website.  Retrieved 10/24/2012