A 1956 novel by Edwin O'Connor and a 1958 film based on the novel starring Spencer Tracy
, the story concerns the Irish-American
mayor of a big American city that bears a suspicious resemblance
to Boston, Massachusetts
, who wants to run for one more term before he retires. The Mayor, named Frank Skeffington, is "corrupt" in the sense that he likes to hand out personal favors in exchange for loyalty
, but overall seems to be a pretty decent person
who genuinely cares for his constituents. The events are mostly seen through the eyes of Skeffington's nephew and local newspaperman, Adam Caulfield, although the novel is written in the third person.
Of course, not everybody is so enamored of Skeffington's antics, and in both the film and the novel, we meet plenty of the people who want to bring him down- including Caulfield's own father-in-law and Caulfield's boss, newspaper editor Amos Force
. These include even the city's Roman Catholic Cardinal, who thinks Skeffington is a walking embarrassment to Roman Catholics and to Irish-Americans.
Hoping to stop him once and for all, some of Skeffington's foes find a candidate to run against him- a bland
, boring, good-looking-but-not-too-bright
young candidate named Kevin McCluskey, who is so unimpressive, despite his respectable war record
, that even the Cardinal
thinks he's a loser. Ordinarily, McCluskey (who bears more than a slight resemblance to a young John F. Kennedy
) wouldn't stand a chance against a seasoned politician like Skeffington, but there's one thing that has changed the game this time out- television.
The story, which drew some of its inspiration
from real-life Boston mayor James Michael Curley
, explores a lot of the issues surrounding mid-20th century urban politics in the United States. The New Deal
had robbed the urban machine politicians of a lot of their traditional role in distributing public assistance, by making the Federal government responsible for it instead. Moreover, the advent of television meant that being good-looking and blandly inoffensive became more important than being a skillful politician who could command peoples' loyalty. In the end, Skeffington loses the election badly, then suffers a heart attack and dies
. He is revered by the citizens of his city, but the day of politicians like Skeffington is over.
Tropes found in this novel/film include: