Buddy Barker (Eric Mason) is a mover and shaker in Washington politics as a congressional coordinator and also serves as campaign manager for Senate hopeful Frank Carlton (Ted Knight). He hires on blonde bombshell Samantha Ashley (Mamie Van Doren) as his social secretary and before she can say compromising position, Sam finds herself embroiled in a congressional hearing for behavior unbecoming a–well not really sure why congress is involved since the cat hadn’t even been elected yet…anyway. She is accused by some senators as being a pimp for Buddy while others hedge because they may or may not have used her services. It’s an accusation she vehemently denies but Barker’s reputation makes that exceedingly difficult. You see, Buddy is a philanderer of the highest order but his charm and sophistication are able to save the budding relationship that quickly develops between he and Sam.
Well one of the girls who had her pants charmed off by Buddy comes back and is now pregnant. In the most powerful segment of the film follows the tragic story of Mona Archer (Rachel Roman). Buddy calls Sam and wants her to convince young Mona to have an abortion. She is forced to go get see a general practitioner who does abortions as favors to the politicos in an office overlooking Capitol Hill. The doc tells her that its not so bad if there is someone at home to keep watch over her when they are finished but when she says she lives alone, the doctor tells her that it’s not a major procedure and she’ll be fine that evening. She confides in the doctor that she doesn’t want to have the abortion but will go through with it after which she is put under anesthesia. She experiences a drug induced dream about the night she became pregnant and once the procedure is over she awakes screaming in pain as she has a total psychological break when she finds the doctor atop her.
The crux of the hearing is the candidate’s relationship with British national Angela Wallace (June
Wilkinson). A Capitol call girl, she finds herself seeking shelter in Sam’s hotel room when Senate hopeful Carlton comes over to pick Sam up for lunch. He is instantly smitten and retains her as his personal secretary and his lover. The politician has genuine feelings for Angela and finds himself being worn down by the pressures from being caught between the hearing, Buddy and Angela. At the hearing a final piece of evidence is presented. When a stag reel featuring Frank’s dear Angela is shown as evidence to her character, Frank crumbles and plans to quit the campaign. After the initial shock, this reel steels Frank’s resolve to run much to Buddy’s delight. The woman was a distraction and the kingmaker wants his rewards.
Ultimately the film is about a good man seeking political office and the monster that guides him through the bedlam of Washington’s electoral process. Frank’s heart gives out when he is unable to suffer the slings and arrows of the politics game. Buddy is deeply affected by the loss but only in the way it affects his career. When Sam finds him weeping alone in the hearing room she pulls the rug out from under the scumbag when she tells him that he’s merely “a cheap imitation of a human being.”
The initial set-up of the film is a tad confusing when we think that Sam is the main character but she is just the blank slate that tries to draw us into the film She is present at the hearing that makes up the framework of the story and she is also present through most of the flashback vignettes but we are not supposed to watch her story. We are just supposed to watch the story unfold through her eyes. In fact most of the characters aren’t that important with Buddy and Frank carrying this morality tale on their backs. If you don’t like courtroom drama and 1950s message movies, especially those with a certain political bent (you know…the one’s that don’t taste like apple pie), then you may not enjoy the film. If you like well made dramas that try to tackle tough issues long before comedies such as JUNO or BULLWORTH then you might get a kick out of THE CANDIDATE.
A pretty young writer takes in the Greenwich Village street fair the night before she leaves New York City for good. The Manhattan crime division is trying to take down the mob but are struggling to bring a young, charismatic potential capo known only as Johnny G. (Martin Brooks) The police have no record or photographs as he keeps below their radar. The detective calls in a favor to the city desk and sets the newspaper on his scent to try to wrangle a photograph causing Johnny to run to ground in a coffee shop and force the patrons and owners to cover for him if anyone comes in. As they sit in the shop talking to Johnny the writer, who happens to be a regular, comes in to let the owner Leona know that she is leaving town. Johnny demands her name and she doesn’t respond so he decides to call her Coffee (Ann Donaldson). Since its her last night in town the comely Coffee agrees to go out on the town with the three men in the coffee shop each one getting two hours of her last six in town. Johnny is first up and he takes Coffee to lounges and gin joints as he discusses his plan to take over Lou Caddy’s (Nick Rosse) operation before his competitor Allie (John Seven) can. Lou doesn’t want his turf in one persons hands and he wants the two to split it but since he’s going to jail he can only let the two hash it out and Allie’s got big plans.
Coffee is worried about Johnny going to a meeting and doesn’t want him to go in case they try to kill him but Johnny sends her on her second date. Things get sleazy when the second man she goes out with turns out to be a poseur instead of a playwright and he has some rapey inclinations towards the lovely Coffee. He is ready to take advantage of the young woman until she is able to frighten him with the mere mention of Johnny’s name. This is a man that is feared and respected and Coffee is realizing that there is more to him than simple thuggery.
The fight for the territory is tense. It’s a sibling rivalry you see, Johnny and Allie are like brothers because they were raised together when Allie’s family dies. He comes and lives with Johnny and his dad but his dad is gunned down for no apparent reason and the two orphaned boys promised him they wouldn’t use guns and have held the promise all the way through their rise in the mob. Allie finally sells out his morals and takes a gun to a knife fight and when he challenges Johnny he shoots him several times at point blank range. Johnny then strangles Allie throwing him on the curb killing him. He keeps his promise to Coffee and picks her up to take her to the airport. He drops her off and she is reinvigorated at the prospect of writing but does not realize that her safe transport was the last act of the mortally wounded mobster.
JOHNNY GUNMAN is a morality play that can still work with today’s audiences if it is modernized. This classic story is fun to fans of older cinema but will have a hard time engaging the uninitiated. The acting is top notch with Martin Brooks and Ann Donaldson lighting up the screen. Donaldson is gorgeous as the young and insecure writer and Brooks is a dashing gangster. The film seems to be shot on location in Greenwich Village and it has a run and gun poverty row feel to it. The story is tight knit and well paced taking place over the course of one night. The picture quality is great. The films are not scrubbed and retain their original grain. Another great release from Vinegar Syndrome. There are no features, but the DVD does include a reversible cover so you can choose which film you want displayed more prominently. THE CANDIDATE + JOHNNY GUNMAN is available directly from Vinegar Syndrome or on Amazon. Check out the trailer below.