Review: The Seduction of Joe Tynan

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

Alan Alda is an unimpeachably right guy. He’s attractive, intelligent, multifariously talented, and probably good for the ecology. He is a model of sociopolitical conscientiousness, and a 100-percent masculine romantic icon without a touch of male-chauvinist-piggery. No matter how often or deservedly his talents (acting, writing, directing) are recognized, he manages to maintain a becoming modesty at the same time he displays an unabashed joy in winning (turning a cartwheel on the way to claim his Emmy for a recent M*A*S*H script). I’ll let go of the other shoe as soon as I insist that I like and admire him, too. And until The Seduction of Joe Tynan I tended to assume that it was base envy or some other character flaw of mine that led me to find Alan Alda just a tad smarmy. The physiognomy is part of it, ready to turn rat-faced if the sweetness ever left the smile and the warmth and intelligence deserted the eyes. It’s in the voice, too, a subterranean whine ever so faintly compromising the moral-ethical rectitude. Whether this hint of imperfection has any deeper locus I shall not speculate here, lest the lynch mobs begin forming in earnest. And look, I’m talking about just the merest tincture here, the shadow of a shadow.

And I think Jerry Schatzberg knows about it, and has used this quality very shrewdly and subtly in The Seduction to adjust the delicate valences in the relationships U.S. Senator Joe Tynan has with wife, daughter, mistress, colleagues, staff, media, and his potential constituency, the American public at large. Joe Tynan is also in many ways a right guy: a young but certifiably mature liberal Senator from New York who is on the enlightened side of every issue, but is also enough of a pro and a realist not to get self-righteous around his colleagues and alienate everybody. His staff is grooming him for bigger things, the media is ever ready to make beautiful music with a telegenic politico, and Joe himself isn’t ashamed to want those bigger things. And so, when an aged fellow Senator—and personal friend—says he’s sponsoring a slightly rednecked candidate for the Supreme Court and would appreciate Joe’s not going on any liberal crusade about it (the guy is a political threat to the old boy, who would rather have him on the Court than running for his job), Joe gives him his lockerroom bona fides. But some civil-rights lobbyists approach him with soft blackmail—they’ll see that fighting-liberal Joe Tynan gets plenty of bad publicity if he tries to sit on the fence—and it will be a great opportunity for a rising star to rise all the higher, especially with a national convention in the offing. And yeah. Tynan’s scruples also get a workout in the private sector: one member of the nomination-blocking team is a very intelligent, very impressive, very attractive lady; and even though Joe enjoys terrific rapport with his equally intelligent/ impressive/attractive wife of nearly 20 years, this other woman does get under his skin, and he under hers.

All of this—and other complications, too, like a teenage daughter who needs more fathering—fall into rhetorical place in a screenplay, by Alda, clearly steeped in video problem-play formulae. The sense of made-for-TV is not reduced by Jerry Schatzberg’s visual handling (and TV-style budgetary limitations are apparent in the closing sequence set at the most small-scale national political convention in film history). Yet The Seduction of Joe Tynan comes out an engrossing film despite all that, mainly because Alda has written a couple of swell female roles, and Barbara Harris (the wife) and Meryl Streep (the other woman) have unostentatiously but firmly seized them for all their worth. The what-are-we-getting-into-here? prelude and aftermath of the first adulterous kiss is one of the most deliciously and advisedly erotic scenes in recent memory. (It is incumbent upon me to advise all cinematic lechers that Meryl Streep possesses a terrific bedroom laugh.) Schatzberg is partly responsible for these pleasures, surely. And without putting Tynan down too deep he has played on that submerged smarminess of Alda’s just enough to qualify sympathy for the fortunate fellow who gets the best of so many bargains. Of course, it could be that Alan Alda counted on this all along, even designed Joe Tynan as a discreetly confessional critique of his own stardom. That’d be just like him. The fucking paragon!

RTJ

© 1979 Richard T. Jameson

THE SEDUCTION OF JOE TYNAN
Direction: Jerry Schatzberg. Screenplay: Alan Alda. Cinematography: Adam Holender. Art direction: David Chapman. Editing: Evan Lottman. Music: Bill Conti. Production: Martin Bregman.
The players: Alan Alda, Barbara Harris, Meryl Streep, Melvyn Douglas, Rip Torn, Charles Kimbrough, Carrie Nye, Michael Higgins, Blanche Baker, Merv Griffin.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.