Whatever one thinks of Frank Capra’s films of the late ‘30s, they are technically above reproach and have a galloping sense of pace. The shock of State of the Union, his last movie in a political vein, is its technical sloppiness. This extends to everything from the misspelling of two star names in the opening credits (“Katherine” for Katharine Hepburn and “Adolph” for Adolphe Menjou) to the downright bizarre lack of care in the editing. Indeed, this is one of the worst edited films I’ve ever seen. Shots are spit out and left dangling so that we’re not sure of what we’ve just looked at, reaction shots last far too long, and the simple flow of action from shot to shot never seems to match. This shameful ineptitude is reflected, of course, in the story of the film itself, which is similar to Capra’s earlier works in that it opens several cans of worms, then tries to re-can them with a big, obscure speech that appeals to emotion and destroys specific thought.
Spencer Tracy is miscast as a Capra hero; his put-on geniality seems faintly sinister, and Hepburn is in his shadow as his cheated-on wife, though she scores a few laughs in a giddy drunk scene. The economic problems discussed at some length have remained the same in America, as has the corruption of both our political parties, but Capra pretends he has an answer to these tribulations, and his answers always have a distinct lust for hero worship. He had considerable success in Hollywood because his thoughts on the world led him to glorify the cult of personality, and his films make us question the movie star system, if not our system of government. State of the Union, bad as it is, still has some punch left in its ending, Tracy’s call to arms speech. This kind of manipulative Capra-movie power needs to be examined, questioned, and then firmly rejected, for its logical conclusion is dictatorship, something its director preached against but seems to have secretly longed for.