State of the Union is Frank Capra’s 1948 political satire, laced with both dark humour and uplifting appeals to the American way.
There can’t be many films which spell the lead actress’s name wrong in the credits (“Katherine” for “Katharine” Hepburn), though otherwise this is a film of high production quality, even if the sharp camera cuts within scenes do sometimes jar to an eye used to modern editing.
The film tells the story of a self-made businessman (Spencer Tracy) who is lured into politics by a young looking Angela Lansbury and others. He then faces a battle between staying true to himself or shifting his political views in order to win the support of key individuals.
Although the script is heavily laden with references to 1940s American politics, this is done mostly in the form of passing references to names such as Truman, Roosevelt and Taft. If you don’t recognise all the names, it doesn’t hinder understanding the meaning.
The quick-fire dialogue and political rhetoric still sparkle today, particularly the exchanges over extending health care to all Americans – which could be uttered by an American politician on the stump tomorrow.
Films of this vintage often show their age in their attitude towards women. However, not only are there two strong female characters courtesy of Hepburn and Lansbury, but the humour still raises a laugh rather than a cringe – such as when one man explains why there will never be a female President: “Because no woman would want to admit to being over 35” (the minimum age for standing for President).
The ending is very Capra, by which I mean the main character discovers a heart of gold and gives a rousing speech about how great America can be. Very saccharine but also a logical extension of the plot up to that point.
All in all, an enjoyable 110 minutes, particularly as the plot manages to speed along at quite a pace without the direction ever being too predictable – most notably when there is an interlude for aeroplane acrobatics, dramatically shot.
You can get the film from Amazon here.