The 1964 film The Best Man tells the story of a tough, sometimes nasty, presidential primary. It will be screened Presidents Day weekend in Silver Spring, Md., and viewers might see some familiar themes in the midst of the GOP presidential primary.
He also ran for Congress twice. The first time was for a House seat in upstate New York in 1960, which he lost to incumbent Republican Rep. J. Ernest Wharton. The second time, he ran for Senate in California, losing the 1982 Democratic primary to Gov. Jerry Brown.
While Vidal never made it Congress, he did get to play a Member in the movies. In Tim Robbins’ 1992 satire “Bob Roberts,” Vidal plays liberal Sen. Brickley Paiste, whose mannerisms and beliefs adhere closely to Vidal’s own.
AFI’s screening of “The Best Man” also coincides roughly with the play’s Broadway revival. The play, starring James Earl Jones as Hockstader, John Larroquette as Russell and Eric McCormack as Cantwell, is set for an April 1 opening at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater in New York City.
The play was previously revived in 2000 at the Virginia Theatre on Broadway. Cast members included Charles Durning as Hockstader, Spalding Gray as Russell and Chris Noth as Cantwell.
For such a famous history, though, the film is difficult to find, making the AFI screening a bonus for political cinephiles. It’s not available for streaming on video-on-demand outlets such as Netflix or Blockbuster, and it never made it to wide-release DVD.
MGM will burn a DVD-R on a made-to-order basis, but that’s about the extent of the film’s digital footprint.
There are a few lonely VHS copies floating around, but video rental places where one can find such an artifact, such as Potomac Video in Washington, are few and far between.
In general, it’s “not one we remember too well,” said Andrew Mencher, the programming director of Washington’s Avalon Theatre. He noted that when his theater conducted a survey among patrons of top Washington films in March 2008, “The Best Man” didn’t warrant even one write-in vote.
“I am a little surprised that this film hasn’t been revived more. ... But a lot of films from this time period have fallen off the map. So we’re doing our part with the screening this month,” Hitchcock said.