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Academy Award-winning screen icons Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn shine in a classic film about marriage, politics and the pursuit of the American dream. When idealistic businessman Grant Matthews (Tracy) is chosen to run for the Presidency, he’s caught between the ruthless ambition of a string-pulling newspaper owner and the integrity of his devoted wife (Hepburn). But just as Matthews embraces his ultimate goal, he realizes that he may have lost touch with the American people. Masterfully directed by three-time Academy Award winner Frank Capra (It is a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night), State of the Union is a timeless crowd pleaser with a stellar supporting cast including Angela Lansbury, Van Johnson and Adolphe Menjou.
State of the Union is moderately better as a Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie than it is as a Frank Capra picture. No doubt about it, these are two good roles for the smitten stars: Tracy is a self-made businessman reluctantly drafted into a dark-horse presidential candidacy; Hepburn is his estranged but whip-smart wife, who joins him on the campaign trail. Adding intrigue is the newspaper heiress (played with relish by baby-faced Angela Lansbury) who’s the reason for their marital problems. She’s also the one that convinces a longtime political horse-trader (Adolphe Menjou) to take up the campaign–which results in a series of compromises for the candidate.
The Capra flavor is here, in the paeans to liberty and the American Way, and in the crackling pacing of dialogue scenes. Capra’s affection for supporting players may be evident, with standout stuff from Menjou, Van Johnson (as a cynical aide), Lewis Stone, and Raymond Walburn. But the film’s roots as a hit play (by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) are a little too evident, and the film as a whole doesn’t feel as bracingly Capraesque as the director’s 1930s work. Having said that, the political satire is as relevant today as it was once in 1948, despite the fact that the rapid-fire topical references could be puzzling to non-campaign buffs. Note for bloopers collectors: Hepburn’s name is spelled “Katherine” in the opening credits. –Robert Horton