Seduction of Joe Tynan, The (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Dec 13, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Seduction of Joe Tynan, The (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Jerry Schatzberg

Release Date(s)

1979 (December 14, 2021)

Studio(s)

Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: B

The Seduction of Joe Tynan (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

Seduction can take many forms—fame, power, love. A US senator has to deal with all three in the political drama The Seduction of Joe Tynan, starring and written by Alan Alda. The confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee propels the senator into the spotlight and makes him the target of variously motivated advisors, sparks conflict with old friends, and threatens his family life.

Joe Tynan (Alda) is a liberal New York senator who has managed so far to gain political power without sacrificing either his principles or his home life. His ethics and marriage are tested when an opportunity opens for real power, possibly a spot on the national ticket. To clear a path to the White House, he’ll need to go against his oldest friend in politics, Senator Birney (Melvyn Douglas). His newest advisor, attractive lobbyist Karen Traynor (Meryl Streep), tempts him into an affair that threatens to dissolve his marriage to Ellie (Barbara Harris).

The Seduction of Joe Tynan is the kind of film that was popular in the 1970s—dramas that dealt with adult subjects and offered well-developed characters. (The next decade would see a shift to action pictures and comedies that skewed more to light entertainment and explosions than to social issues.) But it seems more made-for-TV than a theatrical film. Shot on a limited budget, it has a very good cast but no big stars. Alda was making his name in television and Streep hadn’t yet reached star status. Universal, the studio that made the film, was turning out TV movies prolifically at the time, and the film might have been originally intended for television.

The story follows a predictable trajectory with few surprises. Streep is very good as an ambitious professional interested in Joe partly because he’s a rising star in national politics and partly because of romantic attraction. With her self-assured eye contact, easy body language, and obvious ability to listen and persuade, she conveys intelligence. The way she looks at Joe shows she has more than politics on her mind.

Alda looks the part of a young senator and carries himself with assurance and grace. Initially, he’s happily married and able to separate his job from home life, but as that changes, teenage daughter Janet (Blanche Baker) becomes hostile toward him and his wife Ellie increasingly distant. We see how he tries to maintain friendship with Senator Birney while knowing that he’ll soon have to oppose him. In later scenes, he practically pleads with Ellie to give him another chance to make their marriage work and he’s convincing in his sincerity.

Barbara Harris has a fairly meaty role as Ellie. Not merely the smiling wife who stands next to her husband at lecterns, she’s deeply in love with Joe, protective of her family, and supportive of his ambitions. But she’s no fool, and knows instinctively that her husband has been disloyal. Harris is an excellent reactor, and much her performance is in facial expressions that reveal her character’s thoughts. Charles Kimbrough (TV’s Murphy Brown) also stars as Francis, Joe’s right-hand aide, and Rip Torn appears as rough-spoken, crude, womanizing Senator Kittner.

Director Jerry Schatzberg (Scarecrow) presents the story in linear fashion, switching back and forth between Joe in Congress and Joe at home. A more interesting structure might have been to use occasional flashbacks to fill in backstories. In its present form, there’s little suspense, outcomes are easily anticipated, and the dialogue is mostly staged in static, non-cinematic locations. Some additional visual pizzazz would have enhanced the picture’s production value.

The Seduction of Joe Tynan was shot by director of photography Adam Holender on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras and lenses. The Region A Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents the film in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Technicolor palette is vivid but doesn’t contain the bold primary colors so identified with Technicolor of the 40s and 50s. Blacks are rich and deep. Skin tones are natural, and details such as hair, stubble on men’s faces, patterns in fabric, and the craggy, wrinkled face of Melvyn Douglas are well delineated. Lighting is high key for the scenes in the Senate chamber and various offices, and warmer in the at-home scenes. Hundreds of extras, red, white, and blue balloons, confetti, banners, and state signs create the excitement of a political convention.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear throughout. On two occasions, the aging Senator Birney lapses into incoherent French, suggesting early onset Alzheimer’s. During fund raising and convention scenes, ambient noise of the crowd is blended with dialogue and background music. Bill Conti’s main theme is perky, with a bluegrass feel complete with twangy guitar.

The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary with Bryan Reesman
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:11)
  • The Mephisto Waltz Trailer (SD – 2:27)
  • The Four Seasons Trailer (SD – 2:25)
  • Still of the Night Trailer (SD – 2:07)
  • Silkwood Trailer (SD – 2:19)
  • A Thousand Clowns Trailer (SD – 3:02)
  • Puzzle of a Downfall Child Trailer (SD – 1:51)
  • Radio Spots (HD – :57)

In his audio commentary, entertainment journalist and author Bryan Reesman outlines the basic plot of The Seduction of Joe Tynan and makes a point of stating that the film was made during the era of bi-partisan politics. The current political climate in Washington is compared to that depicted in the film. Alda spent three years writing the film while starring on TV in M*A*S*H, and gained behind-the-camera experience by directing some of the show’s episodes. He got the idea for the film while campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment and noticing that many politicians were more style than substance. Alda’s subsequent work on TV and in movies is chronicled. Noting that Melvyn Douglas “brings the right amount of gravitas” to his role, Reesman provides an extensive career overview. Some of the big films of 1979 are mentioned. The Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings and the allegations brought against them recall the controversial nominee for the high court in the film.

My reaction to The Seduction of Joe Tynan is pretty much the same as when I saw it during its original release. The film never rises above a routine political drama with few surprises. It’s nice to see Meryl Streep in a role just before she became a huge star. She gives us a hint, with her light Louisiana drawl, of the many accents she would adopt so believably in movies to come. But Alda simply doesn’t have the screen presence to completely inhabit Tynan. I never saw him as other than Alan Alda, while Streep, Harris, Douglas and Kimbrough morph into their roles effortlessly.

- Dennis Seuling

 

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