The Last Hurrah (1958 film)

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The Last Hurrah
Last Hurrah.jpg
U.S. movie poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by John Ford
Written by Frank S. Nugent
Based on The Last Hurrah
1956 novel 
by Edwin O'Connor
Starring Spencer Tracy
Jeffrey Hunter
Dianne Foster
Cinematography Charles Lawton, Jr.
Edited by Jack Murray
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • October 24, 1958 (1958-10-24)
Running time
121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.3 million[1]
Box office $1.1 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

The Last Hurrah is a 1958 film adaptation of the novel The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor. The picture was directed by John Ford and stars Spencer Tracy as a veteran mayor preparing for yet another election campaign. Tracy was nominated as Best Foreign Actor by BAFTA and won the Best Actor Award from the National Board of Review, which also presented Ford the award for Best Director.[specify]

The film tells the story of Frank Skeffington, a sentimental but iron-fisted Irish-American who is the powerful mayor of an unnamed New England city. As his nephew, Adam Caulfield, follows one last no-holds-barred mayoral campaign, Skeffington and his top strategist, John Gorman, use whatever means necessary to defeat a candidate backed by civic leaders such as banker Norman Cass and newspaper editor Amos Force, the mayor's dedicated foes.

Plot summary[edit]

In "a New England city", Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy) plans to run for a fifth term. Skeffington rose from poverty in an Irish ghetto to become mayor and former governor, and is skilled at using the power of his office and an enormous political machine of ward heelers to receive support from his Irish Catholic base and other demographics. Rumors of graft and abuse of power are widespread, however, and the Protestant bishop, newspaper publisher Amos Force (John Carradine), banker Norman Cass (Basil Rathbone), and other members of the city's traditional elite the Irish Catholics replaced oppose Skeffington; so do the Catholic cardinal (Donald Crisp), Skeffington's childhood friend, and other Catholics. Skeffington's opponents support the candidacy of Kevin McCluskey (Charles B. Fitzsimons), a young Catholic lawyer and war veteran with no political experience.

Adam Caulfield (Jeffrey Hunter) is a sportswriter for Force's newspaper. His father-in-law, Roger Sugrue (Willis Bouchey), is among those who oppose Skeffington, Caulfield's uncle. The mayor invites Caulfield to observe in person what will be his last election, his "last hurrah", to document urban politics before radio and television fully changes campaigning. Skeffington prefers old-fashioned, hands-on politics, and attends numerous rallies, luncheons, dinners, and speeches. His influence is such that when Skeffington attends an unpopular old friend's wake, hundreds rush to be present. Disgusted at how the wake becomes another political event, Caulfield leaves; one of the mayor's men explains to him, however, that Skeffington attended to attract mourners to cheer the widow, to whom Skeffington has secretly donated $1,000.

After Cass's bank turns down a loan for the city to build a housing development, Skeffington invades the exclusive Plymouth Club to confront him, Force, the bishop, and other members of the elite. The mayor threatens to publicly embarrass Cass's family by appointing his unintelligent son as fire commissioner. The banker is forced to approve the loan, but vows to contribute large amounts of money to defeat Skeffington. McCluskey's campaign arranges for a series of television advertisements, but his ineptness disappoints both the cardinal and bishop.

On election night Skeffington's men expect another victory, but McCluskey unexpectedly defeats the incumbent and his machine. As his men argue over why their usual tactics involving large amounts of "money" failed, Skeffington chastises them as if he were unaware of their actions. The mayor confidently states on television that he will run for governor but suffers a heart attack that night, and a large crowd comes to pay respect to the invalid. After Skeffington's last confession, the cardinal, Caulfield, Sugrue, and the mayor's men are at his bedside. When Sugrue suggests that the patient would relive his life differently, Skeffington regains consciousness enough to reply "Like Hell I would" before dying.


The role of Mayor Frank Skeffington was first offered to Orson Welles, as Welles recounts in Peter Bogdanovich's 1992 book This Is Orson Welles:

When the contracts were to be settled, I was away on location, and some lawyer -- if you can conceive of such a thing -- turned it down. He told Ford that the money wasn't right or the billing wasn't good enough, something idiotic like that, and when I came back to town the part had gone to Tracy.


Like the novel, the film was based in part on the career of former Boston mayor James Michael Curley, and the unnamed New England city that he runs was based on Boston, Massachusetts.[3] Curley opposed the film's production, but not because of the negative dramatization; rather, he believed that The Last Hurrah might prevent Hollywood from making a biographical film of his life.[4] Curley sued the film's producers and received $42,000.[5]

The movie was budgeted at $2.5 million but came in at $200,000 under budget.[1] For The Last Hurrah a large, expensive New England exterior set was constructed around an existing park at Columbia Ranch in Burbank, CA. Most of this massive set burned down in 1973, but a small portion still stands, and can be seen in many tv shows and movies, including opening credits for the series "Friends".


The movie was not a popular success and recorded a loss of $1.8 million.[1] Tracy believed that his performance was superior to that of The Old Man and the Sea, his previous film and released the same year. Tracy was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in Old Man, however.[3] Ronald Bergan believed that The Last Hurrah was perhaps Ford's "most personal" film among his later works. He stated that Tracy's portrayal of Skeffington was a surrogate for Ford himself, and that the film was "full of Fordian moments".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c James Curtis, Spencer Tracy: A Biography, Alfred Knopf, 2011 p741-752
  2. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. ^ a b Tatara, Paul. "The Last Hurrah". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  4. ^ As stated by Robert Osborne in his introduction of The Last Hurrah on Turner Classic Movies, 14 January 2012.
  5. ^ Burke, Gerald F. (November 2006). "James Michael Curley; A Lasting Hurrah". Jamaica Plains Bulletin. Retrieved August 27, 2012. 
  6. ^ Bergan, Ronald (May 2009). "The Last Hurrah". Undercurrents. FIPRESCI. Retrieved March 21, 2013. 

External links[edit]