When bird-brained country bumpkin Zachary Hicks (Guy Kibbee, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) inexplicably wins a gubernatorial primary, party leaders hire sleazy campaign manager Hal Samson Blake (Warren William, The Wolfman), who is known in the world of politics for his dirty but very effective tricks. Blake indeed breaks every rule in order to get the unelectable Hicks inside the Governor’s mansion.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I can bring you the greatest campaign manager in the world.”
Not bad political satire is filled with many American truisms. The film’s cynical tone makes it interesting to modern eyes. The Dark Horse, directed by Alfred E. Green (Dangerous), makes fun of both the American political machine and low-information voters. The small budget hurts a bit, but this is a very entertaining comedy-drama.
The screenplay by Joseph Jackson (One Way Passage) and Wilson Mizner (20,000 Years in Sing Sing) was based on an original idea by producer Darryl F. Zanuck.
In typical 1930s fashion, Zanuck was inspired by newspaper articles. Elections were around the corner and the producer thought it would be a great idea to cash in on the political atmosphere that was engulfing the nation. It’s not a great film per se, but it anticipates classic political satires like Ivan Reitman’s Dave, Warren Beatty’s Bulworth and Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog.
Warren William is fantastic as the unscrupulous campaign manager. William was always good at playing heels and this is one of his best performances. The underrated Guy Kibbee is pretty great too as William’s patsy. A beloved and very busy character actor, Kibbee is always a welcome addition to any film.
Sadly, Bette Davis is wasted as William’s secretary. You could easily eliminate her character without losing anything. The real juicy female part is played by Vivienne Osborne, a silent movie star who ended up as a salesperson at a department store. Osborne plays William’s bitchy wife. I’m sure Davis regretted not switching roles with Osborne. In later interviews, Davis did say that she liked her part, mostly because it was a sign that her career was slowly moving upwards.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Dark Horse marks the first collaboration between cinematographer Sol Polito and Davis. He became one of Davis’s favorite cameramen. Hal B. Wallis (Casablanca) was the supervising producer. Music by Leo F. Forbstein. With Frank McHugh, Sam Hardy, Robert Warwick and Louise Beavers (Imitation of Life). Trivia Alert: I believe this is the first time Davis lights up a cigarette on the screen. B&W, 75 minutes, Not Rated.