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Tracy and Hepburn team in a campaign trail talker

Times Staff Writer

Director Frank Capra explored idealism and corruption in politics in 1939’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and 1941’s “Meet John Doe” as well as 1948’s “State of the Union,” which makes its DVD debut (Universal, $15) today.

Based on the hit Broadway play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse of “Life With Father” fame, “State of the Union” stars a sturdy Spencer Tracy as a well-meaning Republican industrialist who is groomed by his mistress, a powerful newspaper publisher (an effective Angela Lansbury), to become the party’s candidate for president. But she and the party machine, which includes a slick manager played by Adolphe Menjou, aren’t happy with Tracy’s thoughtful speeches and encourage him to toe the party line.

Waiting not so silently in the wings is his wife (Katharine Hepburn), who is appalled by the machinations of the corrupt politicians but is persuaded to portray the happy wife and mother. Van Johnson also stars.

Curiously, “State of the Union” was not created as a Tracy-Hepburn vehicle. Capra stalwarts Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert were slated to star, but Tracy ended up getting the role and Colbert left the project because she didn’t want to work past 5 p.m. Tracy suggested Hepburn to Capra as a replacement.

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Hepburn, Menjou and George J. Folsey’s names are misspelled in the opening credits -- distribution rights that belonged to MGM were later sold to another company that created its own credits.

It’s too bad that Universal is releasing “State of the Union” with no extras.

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