|Russell (Fonda) contemplates|
In a candid conversation with Russell, Hockstader reveals that he's dying from cancer. It's clear that these men value their friendship and respect each other, but Hockstader also harbors concerns about Russell's indecisiveness. He confides to his friend: "Sometimes, you get so busy thinking how complex everything is that the important problems don't get solved." After the meeting, when Russell's wife and his campaign manager ask if he got the endoresement, Russell replies: "It's what he (Hockstader) didn't say. He's going to support Joe Cantwell."
|Cantwell confronts an accuser.|
|The former president endorses no one.|
Still, The Best Man is a film with neither heroes nor villains. Cantwell may be ruthless, dangerously ambitious, and willing to distort the truth. However, he is also a faithful, affectionate husband who is innocent of key accusations made against him. Furthermore, as Hockstader notes, he "knows his own mind"--which might make him a better president than Russell. As for Russell, he is certainly more likable, but has cheated on his wife, may lack decisiveness, and finds himself a hostage of his own ego ("I never pass a mirror I don't look in...I wonder why?").
Fine performances abound in the The Best Man, with Robertson and Fonda at the top of their games. Lee Tracy steals many scenes, but then Vidal gives Hockstader most of the juicy dialogue. Tracy originated the role in the 1961 stage version of The Best Man and won a Tony. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the film version (losing out to Peter Ustinov in Topkapi).