Young Robert Redford: Bad Politics and Good Movies

Young Robert Redford The CandidateYoung Robert Redford as Bob McKay in 'The Candidate.'

Robert Redford and politics: 'The Candidate,' 'All the President's Men'

A young Robert Redford can be seen in The Candidate, All the President's Men, Three Days of the Condor, and Downhill Racer as Turner Classic Movies' Redford series comes to a close this evening, Jan. 27, '15.

The dirty, filthy, putrid world of politics is the focus of the first three films, each one of them well-regarded box office hits. The last title, which demonstrates that politics is part of life no matter what, is set in the world of competitive sports.

'The Candidate'

In the Michael Ritchie-directed The Candidate (1972), Robert Redford plays idealistic liberal Democrat Bob McKay, who, with no chance of winning, is convinced to run against the Republican incumbent in a fight for a California seat in Congress.

See, McKay is too handsome. Too young. Too liberal. Or so claimed The Candidate ads. But as is usually the case, looking good and confident on camera is all one needs for political success.

In time, candidate McKay and his supporters realize that he actually has a shot at winning the congressional seat. As his ambition grows so does the pressure for him to toe the line of the political establishment. And so does his willingness to do as he is told.

Power lust corrupts

A highly watchable political drama, The Candidate provides a glimpse into the ruthlessly manipulative realm of politics and power, showing us how The People are ever eager to be, well, ruthlessly manipulated. Michael Ritchie's film also reminds us that power – and/or power lust – corrupts even the best-intentioned, best-looking, and best-dressed of political candidates.

In fact, although set in California, The Candidate could just as easily have been set anywhere else in the United States – or the world, for that matter. That is, wherever there are “free elections” (euphemism for – very, very – expensive vote-buying).

Natalie Wood cameo, Melvyn Douglas' politics

Natalie Wood, with whom Robert Redford had been featured in both Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and This Property Is Condemned (1966) has a cameo as herself in The Candidate. Veteran Melvyn Douglas, who knew a thing or two about the world of American politics, plays Redford's father and former California governor.

Douglas was married to Helen Gahagan, a former actress (She) who became a politician in the 1940s. Because of her liberal-minded worldview, Richard Nixon labeled her The Pink Lady when they fought for a California seat in the U.S. Senate in 1950. Tricky Dick, ironically the president of the United States at the time The Candidate came out, won with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

As for Melvyn Douglas, the former leading man to the likes of Greta Garbo (Ninotchka), Myrna Loy (Third Finger Left Hand), Jean Arthur (Too Many Husbands), and Marlene Dietrich (Angel), found himself having trouble getting film work during the Red Scare. In the 1960s he would be back, winning his first Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for playing Paul Newman's father in Martin Ritt's Hud (1963). Douglas would win a second Oscar in that category for his performance as a powerful (but all too mortal) tycoon in Hal Ashby's Being There (1979).

'The Candidate': Early 1970s issues eerily pertinent in early 21st century

About as disturbing as Melvyn Douglas' blacklisting is the fact that most of the issues debated in The Candidate remain as topical – and as controversial – as ever. These range from the destruction of the environment to abortion rights. Watch the film and weep that so little has changed in more than four decades.

Jeremy Larner, whose only other film credit was the Jack Nicholson-directed 1971 comedy-drama Drive, He Said (based on Larner's own novel), took home the 1972 Best Original Screenplay Academy Award. Robert Redford, who, as candidate Bob McKay, delivers what could well be the most remarkable performance of his career, was bypassed in the Best Actor category.*

Too handsome, too young, too liberal? Probably not, as Redford would receive his (to date) one and only Best Actor Oscar nomination the following year, for George Roy Hill's blockbuster The Sting.

* The 1972 Best Actor Oscar nominees were:

Robert Redford Young All the President's MenYoung Robert Redford as another Bob, Bob Woodward, in 'All the President's Men.'

'All the President's Men'

Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men (1976) revolves around the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought down the presidency of Helen Gahagan smearer Richard Nixon.

In what many consider one of the greatest American films of the 1970s, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star as Washington Post investigative journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Curiously, neither performer was shortlisted for the year's Best Actor Oscar even though All the President's Men received a total of eight nominations, winning four statuettes, including Best Supporting Actor (Jason Robards as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee) and Best Adapted Screenplay (William Goldman, from Woodward and Bernstein's bestseller).

For the record, the 1976 Best Actor Oscar nominees were:

TCM's other Robert Redford movies: 'Three Days of the Condor'

Directed by frequent Robert Redford collaborator Sydney Pollack, Three Days of the Condor (1975) is one of several big-time “paranoia” Hollywood movies of the mid-1970s, e.g., Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View (1974), Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974). In the film, Redford's CIA agent – code name: Condor – discovers that you just can't trust anyone. Especially your employers.

Also in the prestigious Three Days of the Condor cast: Two-time Best Actress nominee Faye Dunaway (later an Oscar winner for Network, 1976), Best Actor Oscar winner Cliff Robertson (Charly, 1968), and Ingmar Bergman star and Jesus Christ portrayer Max von Sydow (The Virgin Spring, The Greatest Story Ever Told).

'Downhill Racer'

Prior to The Candidate, Redford and Michael Ritchie had collaborated on Downhill Racer (1969) – a low-budget effort released the year Redford reached superstardom after being featured opposite Paul Newman in the pop Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

In Downhill Racer, Redford plays an arrogant, success-oriented member of the U.S. ski team, alienating his fellow team members and clashing with their coach (Gene Hackman). Regarding the making of the film, he would recall decades later:

It's really a profile of a certain type of character that I felt I knew, [that] I grew up with. A character that was not particularly educated, that was kind of rough-edged – even on the slightly crude side. But who was skilled. That's the story I wanted to tell, that we celebrate these characters in our society. They [Paramount Pictures], I think, wanted to focus on the skiing, like it was a big action movie. So we argued right from the beginning about it. It was just a struggle, right from the beginning.

In the same interview, Redford asserts that, despite generally good reviews, Paramount “dumped” the film, which turned out to be a box office flop.

Downhill Racer trivia: The film was produced by Richard Gregson (his only such feature film credit) for Redford's own Wildwood Enterprises. At the time, Gregson was married to Natalie Wood; she is supposed to have helped out during the shoot – as a “production assistant” – and to have been featured as an extra in a handful of scenes.

Robert Redford Young Downhill RacerAnother young Robert Redford: 'Downhill Racer.'

Robert Redford movies: TCM schedule (PT)

5:00 PM THE CANDIDATE (1972). Dir.: Michael Ritchie. Cast: Robert Redford. Peter Boyle. Melvyn Douglas. Don Garner. Allen Garfield. Karen Carlson. Michael Lerner. Kenneth Tobey. Natalie Wood. George McGovern. Terence McGovern (a.k.a. Terry McGovern). Robert Moretti. The voices of Barry Sullivan and Broderick Crawford. Color. 110 minutes. Letterbox Format.

7:00 PM ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976). Dir.: Alan J. Pakula. Cast: Robert Redford. Dustin Hoffman. Jason Robards. Martin Balsam. Jack Warden. Hal Holbrook. Jane Alexander. Meredith Baxter. Stephen Collins. Ned Beatty. Penny Fuller. John McMartin. Robert Walden. F. Murray Abraham. David Arkin. Lindsay Crouse. Valerie Curtin. Allyn Ann McLerie. John O'Leary. Neva Patterson. Sidney Ganis (a.k.a. Sid Ganis). The voice of John Randolph. Color. 138 minutes. Letterbox Format.

9:30 PM THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). Dir.: Sydney Pollack. Cast: Robert Redford. Faye Dunaway. Cliff Robertson. Max von Sydow. John Houseman. Addison Powell. Walter McGinn. Tina Chen. Dino Narizzano. Patrick Gorman. Color. 117 minutes. Letterbox Format.

11:45 PM DOWNHILL RACER (1969). Dir.: Michael Ritchie. Cast: Robert Redford. Gene Hackman. Camilla Sparv. Karl Michael Vogler. Jim McMullan. Dabney Coleman. Kenneth Kirk. Oren Stevens. Walter Stroud. Marco Walli. Uncredited:Natalie Wood (unconfirmed). Color. 102 minutes. Letterbox Format.


Robert Redford movies' cast info via the IMDb.

Robert Redford movies' schedule via the TCM website.

Image of a young Robert Redford as Bob McKay and as Bob Woodward in, respectively, The Candidate and All the President's Men: Warner Bros.

Robert Redford Downhill Racer image: Paramount Pictures, via A Treasure of…

Young Robert Redford: Bad Politics and Good Movies © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
Text NOT to be reproduced without prior written consent.

Leave a comment about 'Young Robert Redford: Bad Politics and Good Movies'


Don't waste time and energy disagreeing with and/or being deeply offended by the presentation of factual information.

On the other hand, it's perfectly okay to disagree with and/or, if you're so inclined, to be deeply offended by the views & opinions (and/or likes & dislikes) found on this site. And to let us know about any omissions or, heaven forbid, errors.

Just bear in mind that *thoughtfulness* and *at least a modicum of sanity* are imperative.

In other words: Feel free to add something reasonable & coherent – AND fact-based – to the discussion.

Abusive/bigoted, trollish/inflammatory, baseless (spreading misinformation, whether intentionally or not), spammy, and/or just plain deranged comments will be zapped and offenders may be banned.

And finally, links found in comments will generally be deleted.

Most recent comments listed on top.