We've Seen This Election Before, In Classic Movies It's life imitating art — election edition. A look at movies that have covered ground that's been well trod this campaign season, like A Face in the Crowd and The Lion in Winter and Ace in the Hole.
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We've Seen This Election Before, In Classic Movies

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We've Seen This Election Before, In Classic Movies

We've Seen This Election Before, In Classic Movies

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We keep hearing that this election is like no other. But is that really true? Listen to this from the 1957 movie "A Face In The Crowd."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A FACE IN THE CROWD")

PERCY WARAM: (As General Haynesworth) Politics have entered a new stage, the television stage. Instead of long-winded public debates, the people want capsule slogans. Time for a change.

SIEGEL: Six decades later, what was true at the dawn of television about sloganeering still applies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: Let's be stronger together, my fellow...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We will make America great again.

SIEGEL: Life imitating art, or maybe vice versa. Either way, critic Bob Mondello says when he hears dispatches from the campaign trail and closes his eyes, what he sees are scenes from classic films.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The big one is "A Face In The Crowd" about a guy who becomes a reality TV star pre-reality TV, and it goes to his head.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A FACE IN THE CROWD")

ANDY GRIFFITH: (As Lonesome Rhodes) I'm not just an entertainer. I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force.

MONDELLO: That's Andy Griffith as the movie populist Lonesome Rhodes. Here's what conjured him for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: People love me. And you know what? I've been very successful. Everybody loves me.

MONDELLO: Now, I cast no aspersions, to paraphrase former vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bensten. In the movies, I knew Lonesome Rhodes. Lonesome Rhodes was no friend of mine. But Donald Trump is no Lonesome Rhodes. What he is is a guy who burnished his image on TV, went on to become a force, and then found himself in trouble when a TV microphone captured him in an unguarded moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. You just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

MONDELLO: A microphone left on also figures in "A Face In The Crowd," except that the disrespect expressed on mic isn't for women - it's for everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A FACE IN THE CROWD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Oh, if they ever heard the way that psycho really talks.

MONDELLO: A flipped switch takes care of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A FACE IN THE CROWD")

GRIFFITH: (As Lonesome Rhodes) You know what the public's like. They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers.

MONDELLO: This does not go over well.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A FACE IN THE CROWD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) Why, he's a monster.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) I can hardly believe it's the same Lonesome Rhodes.

PAUL MCGRATH: (As Macey) It is, only this time his personality finally came through.

MONDELLO: All of this, let's note, is about human failings, not about making political mistakes. For the first time in ages, my election-year thoughts are not filled with campaign satires like "Wag The Dog." The real campaign this year has so outstripped anything Hollywood considered believable in an election movie that you have to turn to other genres. Still, they dovetail pretty neatly with this campaign, or at least with the negatives in it. For instance, while "A Face In The Crowd" is a perfect film for the anti-Trump crowd, if you agree with Mr. Trump that Hillary Clinton ought to be locked up...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: For what she's done, they should lock her up.

MONDELLO: ...The film to catch is "Lion In Winter," where you can see how the locking up thing plays out.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LION IN WINTER")

KATHARINE HEPBURN: (As Eleanor of Aquitaine) How dear of you to let me out of jail.

PETER O'TOOLE: (As King Henry II) It's only for the holidays.

MONDELLO: It's the Middle Ages, and Katharine Hepburn's sharp-tongued Eleanor of Aquitaine has been locked away for a decade or so. It doesn't take long to figure out why.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LION IN WINTER")

HEPBURN: (As Eleanor of Aquitaine) I could peel you like a pear and God himself would call it justice.

MONDELLO: Such a nasty woman. Hollywood's record on glass ceiling breakers isn't great. There's "Devil Wears Prada," of course, and more recently "The Hunger Games." But for decades, Hollywood insisted women be mostly decorative, not powerful. There was always one exception. Queens, like the one Hepburn was playing, were allowed to be as strong as any man. Think Elizabeth I played by everyone from Bette Davis to Judi Dench in "Shakespeare In Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE")

JUDI DENCH: (As Queen Elizabeth) I know something of a woman in a man's profession. Yes, by God, I do know about that.

MONDELLO: And, by God, I do know something about journalists, who've been taking quite a few hits on the campaign trail this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Corrupt media pushing completely false allegations and outright lies.

MONDELLO: Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, is so wary of the media that she went nine months without holding a single press conference. And, as befits a town that lives and dies on publicity, Hollywood can be skeptical about reporters, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ACE IN THE HOLE")

KIRK DOUGLAS: (As Chuck Tatum) I'm a pretty good liar. I've done a lot of lying in my time.

MONDELLO: In "Ace In The Hole," Kirk Douglas plays a reporter who's less concerned with truth than with how a story plays. He orchestrates a whole media circus around a guy trapped in a mine. If you believe that the search for juicier stories has contributed to making a mess of this year's election, I'm guessing you might see a parallel or two.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ACE IN THE HOLE")

DOUGLAS: (As Chuck Tatum) Now, how's this, Sheriff? By tomorrow, I'll have your name all over the paper - the man who rushed here at the first cry for help to direct the rescue operations. By Tuesday, everyone in the state's going to know you. I'll pile it on every day. Six days of this and I'll make you a hero. The election's in the bag. In the bag? The guy who's running against you will vote for you.

MONDELLO: The media think they can control a story. Celebrities think they can control their fans. Politicians think they can control the world. The Greeks called it hubris. In drama, it rarely ends happily, as you'll see if you check out these movies. In life? Well, we'll find out two weeks from today. I'm Bob Mondello.

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