Halloween is over, but something even scarier is just around the corner. No ghost or ghoul can match the sheer terror of — Election Day! (Please keep the screaming to a minimum.)
Those who would rather see something other than election results will find that all their viewing choices have been pre-empted by hours of tedious commentary punctuated by obnoxious speeches and some occasional gloating. It would be much better to tee up Netflix or break out the DVDs.
If that describes you, you’re probably not interested in watching something politically themed, but on the off-chance you want to get into the Election Day spirit without paying attention to the actual election, I thought I might recommend some viewing options that could help you feel good about America and temporarily forget what's going on in the news.
The perennial feel-good political favorite is the Jimmy Stewart classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939, not rated), which is as delightful as it is ridiculous. Stewart plays the titular Mr. Smith, who is appointed as a senator and heads to Washington, D.C., only to discover that — gasp! — there is corruption in our nation’s capital. He goes to the floor of the Senate to mount an old-timey filibuster, where he blathers on for hours on end until the corrupt senator, helpless in the face of Stewart’s sheer integrity, voluntarily admits all his sins and consigns himself to a life of ignominy and disgrace. It’s a fairy tale about as plausible as Cinderella or Rumpelstiltskin, but it’s so earnestly played on all sides that it’s easy to buy into the fantasy.
If fantasy isn’t your thing, I recommend “All the President’s Men” (1976, PG), which is a Bennett family favorite given that my father makes an appearance in it. No, he’s not an actor in the film, but someone playing Bob Bennett answers the phone when Robert Redford calls to ask about a break-in that just took place at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. The voiceover Bob Bennett tells the Redford-played Bob Woodward that one of the burglars worked for the CIA, a bit of information that gets the ball rolling toward President Nixon’s resignation. The guy playing my dad really does sound like him, and my mother has pointed out that the movie shows a piece of paper on screen with our family’s actual home phone number at the time. And, no, our number didn’t begin with a 555 prefix.
If that’s too much reality for you, there’s always “Mars Attacks” (1996, PG-13), the movie where weird visitors from the red planet say “ack-ack” a lot as they vaporize a joint session of Congress. The president, portrayed with over-the-top fervor by Jack Nicholson, takes to the airwaves afterward to remind the American people that they “still have two out of three branches of government left, and that ain’t bad.” That doesn’t stop the Martians from killing him, too, along with a whole bunch of celebrities who look like they’re having fun filming bizarre and gruesome death scenes. You also get to see Pierce Brosnan as a disembodied head kissing Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s had her head grafted onto the body of a chihuahua. It’s almost as ridiculous as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
If watching something other than the news helps you survive Election Day, then I’ll know my work here is done.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.