Alan Alda’s screenwriting debut, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, feels quaint given the current political circumstances. Perhaps it felt quaint in 1979, when it was met with relatively mixed reception and mostly passed over. That’s not to say this is a forgotten classic or anything. It’s a serviceable tale of the moral descent inherent in a political success story, as idealistic liberal senator Joe Tynan (Alda) finds himself the vessel of various interests that lead him to sacrifice his loving family in pursuit of clout. There’s a direct-to-TV feel to the whole thing, including a honky-tonk score that screams “well-meaning but secretly devious.” Ultimately the film’s best scenes are its smaller moments where Alda gets to coast on his inherent likability, 20 years before he became a Republican candidate for President of the United States whom people actually liked on The West Wing.
The film starts with Tynan in the midst of a vote for a large jobs package, sitting in the deeply boring Senate chamber and proud of his accomplishment. He just successfully wrote a bill that will help his constituents in New York City. We know, of course, that most people don’t actually care about the Senate and what it passes. Such was also the case in 1979, but hey, Tynan’s pretty happy and on the cusp of trying to turn his electoral popularity into a potential run for President. Then, Senator Birney (Melvyn Douglas) comes to him with a big ask: Don’t oppose the President’s most recent Supreme Court Justice, Judge Anderson (Maurice Copeland). Anderson is from Louisana and has a history of opposing desegregation. As the rising star on the Left, Tynan’s opposition could sink the nomination while also propelling him out of the Senate. Again, it’s a big ask.
Tynan starts snooping, with the help of Karen Traynor (Meryl Streep), a labor lawyer with considerable dirt on Anderson. The two of them start an affair despite Tynan’s healthy and loving relationship back home with his wife, Ellie (Barbara Harris). As he falls into his affair with Karen, Tynan also becomes more and more embroiled with the fight over Judge Anderson’s nomination.
Most of the story between Tynan and Karen is kind of a drag, as is the domestic drama with Ellie. What’s not a drag is his relationship with his older Senators, all far more corrupt and colorful than he is. Kittner (Rip Torn), head of the Judiciary Committee, is a particular treasure. The two have a gumbo-eating contest, and at one point Tynan has to stand awkwardly beside Kittner as he describes entering the mile-high club with a hot young lady. It’s a fun, disgusting depiction of corrupt officials who see themselves above the law and everyone around them that feels just as relatable now if not more so. Still, all told, there’s a reason why this one ended up somewhat forgotten. It does its job well, tracking Tynan’s rise and fall, and ends on an ambiguous but uplifting note.
The new Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber features an audio commentary track by entertainment journalist Bryan Reesman.