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.


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.

Also new

“Hunger” (New Yorker, $30): Swedish actor Per Oscarsson is a revelation in this critically lauded 1966 adaptation -- it was released in the United States in 1968 -- of Knut Hamsun’s 1890 novel. Oscarsson plays Pontus, a starving artist on the edge of madness.


Oscarsson, who lost a tremendous amount of weight for the role, won best actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival and from the National Society of Film Critics. The DVD includes a new interview with director Henning Carlsen and an intriguing conversation between novelist Paul Auster and Regine Hamsun, the granddaughter of Knut Hamsun.

“Poseidon” (Warner, $35): Wolfgang Petersen’s lavish, special effects-laden remake of the 1972 classic “The Poseidon Adventure” capsized with both critics and audiences. Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Jacinda Barrett are among the stars.

The two-disc edition isn’t very “special” -- the making-of featurette and a diary of a film school intern’s experience on the set are merely serviceable. Other extras include a featurette on the set design and a History Channel documentary, “Rogue Waves.”

“Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” (Warner, $15): This half-baked 1979 sequel to the 1972 original boasts a cast of several Oscar winners -- Michael Caine, Sally Field, Karl Malden and Shirley Jones -- but even they can’t salvage this turkey. The master of disaster himself, Irwin Allen, directed. Extras include a vintage featurette.


“Kicking and Screaming” (Criterion, $30): Enjoyable 1995 first film by writer-director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) about four college friends who refuse to move on after they graduate. Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, Parker Posey, Carlos Jacott, John Lehr and Eric Stoltz star.

Extras include an interview with Baumbach about the genesis of the project, interviews he conducted with cast members, deleted scenes, Baumbach’s crazy 2000 comedy short “Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation,” starring Jacott and Lehr, and brief interviews with Baumbach and his cast that were broadcast in 1995 on the Independent Film Channel.

“A Bit of Fry and Laurie -- Seasons One and Two” (BBC Warner, $50 for both; $25 each). Long before Hugh Laurie became known as the cynical Dr. House on Fox’s hit medical series “House” -- the second season DVD also premieres today (Universal, $60) -- he and Stephen Fry headlined this clever British sketch-comedy series. The DVD also includes “Footlights,” which features early comedy sketches from the two as well as from Emma Thompson.

“The Robinsons -- Complete Season One” (BBC Warner, $25): The dough-faced Martin Freeman of the British version of “The Office” is the best reason to watch this 2005 Britcom about a dysfunctional London family. Freeman plays the youngest of the clan who is trapped in an insurance job he hates and is trying to get over a disastrous five-month marriage. Extras include a behind-the-scenes documentary and passable commentary.