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STATE OF THE UNION

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Angela Lansbury, Van Johnson, Adolphe Menjou
Director: Frank Capra
Audio: English mono
Subtitles: English
Video: Black & white, full-frame 1.33:1
Studio: Universal
Features: None
Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: August 22, 2006

"No way for a fellow to be elected president without his wife knowing about it, is there?"

Film ***

One of Hollywood's greatest silver screen partnerships was surely that between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  The two stars' mutual chemistry was so delectably evident from their very first film together, Woman of the Year (1942), that Hepburn and Tracy would re-appear in no less than eight more films with one another.  Their best films featured witty verbal sparring and comic sparks which frequently devolved into highly-contested battles of the sexes.  Not surprisingly, in many of these films, Hepburn and Tracy portrayed exasperated spouses.  While the majority of these films were comedies, there were also notable dramas such as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967), their final film together.

Undoubtedly, Hepburn and Tracy's wondrous on-screen charisma was fueled by their off-screen romance, which encompassed the better part of three decades.  While real-life affairs seldom translate into cinematic magic, in the case of Hepburn and Tracy, two undeniably talented actors, success was virtually guaranteed.  One might argue that Cary Grant provided a better comic foil for Katharine Hepburn, but her legacy will always be tied with that of Spencer Tracy.

Frank Capra's State of the Union (1948) was Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's fifth film together.  A celebration of old-fashioned Americana, Hollywood-style, this film depicts the shady political arena into which an industrialist, Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy), immerses himself after he decides to run for Presidency.  With his wife Mary (Katharine Hepburn) by his side, Grant hopes to bring an outsider's untainted freshness and enthusiasm into the den of lions that is Washington politics.

Based on a 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay, State of the Union bears some passing similarities to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).  After all, both films are by Frank Capra, and both films address the seemingly inevitable corruption of idealism in face of big politics.

State of the Union also touches upon marital woes, ever the delight of tabloids and the kiss of death for many-a-politician, even aspiring ones like Grant Matthews.  The hush-hush secret is that the would-be President is having an extramarital relationship.  In his defense, Grant and Mary have been estranged for some time.  In fact, it is the Other Woman, manipulative and ambitious newspaper manager Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury), who plants the seed of presidential aspirations in Grant's mind.

Thus, the Western yokel is cajoled into throwing his hat into the political ring.  Idealistic at first, the well-meaning Grant Matthews, under the guidance of sarcastic campaign manager Spike McManus (Van Johnson) and scheming Republican Senator (Adolphe Menjou), slowly begins to compromise the principles that made him an attractive candidate, changing into yet another politician tainted by special interests considerations.

Mary Matthews is recruited to present the fatuous picture of marital stability by her husband's side during his campaign.  But, how can she stand by idly while her husband sacrifices his morals and falls for a conniving young woman?  Mary may have become a reluctant member of her husband's political entourage, but she has a personal agenda - to recapture Grant's misguided affections.  And if she can persuade him to regain his senses too and to stick with his morals, not just the demands of other politicians, than so much the better!

State of the Union culminates in a live fireside chat broadcast from the Matthews mansion.  With "Other Woman" Kay Thorndyke in attendance for the media hoopla, Mary Matthews faces a critical decision - to submit to the will of the political machine that has already ensnared her husband, possibly losing him forever in the process to Kay Thorndyke, or to make one final entreaty to her husband.  The film's unexpected conclusion may surprise some viewers!

In this sense, State of the Union is a romantic drama set in the unlikely world of campaign politics.  Despite the backstage maneuverings seen throughout the film, State of the Union maintains an optimistic if somewhat idealized approach to politics.  Capra's direction is only occasionally stagy, belying the story's origin as a theatrical production.  Some references to the political environment of a by-gone era may seem obscure today, but for the most part, State of the Union remains relevant and contemporary, certainly exhibiting the same spirit of such recent political films like Primary Colors (1998).  Naturally, there are big Oscar-tailored moments for Tracy and Hepburn alike.  Ultimately, State of the Union may not entirely possess the sweet, innocent aura of Capra's pre-war films, but it is still an enjoyable entry in the Hepburn-Tracy canon.

Video ***

State of the Union is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  This black & white film shows minimal signs of age and is generally in good condition.  There is a mildly grainy texture but the picture quality overall is sharp with fine detail levels.

Audio **

State of the Union is an old film, so the audio is monaural.  There is minimal noise on the soundtrack, which has been cleaned up well for this DVD release.

Features (zero stars)

There are no bonus features on this disc.

Summary:

Boasting an impressive supporting cast and the always-reliable star pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, State of the Union is an endearing political romp from the old glory days of Hollywood.

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