- Movie Rating -

The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)

| August 17, 1979

I have a feeling that if he hadn’t followed his father into acting, then Alan Alda could have pretty much succeeded just as well at anything else.  I could easily see him a politician, a humorist, a novelist, a college professor, a psychologist or maybe one of those guys who dabbles in all of the above.  And much of his success would happen because of his sheer likability.  His smile is genuine.  His delivery, whether comedic or dramatic is genuine and that quality gets him over many of the rough patches in The Seduction of Joe Tynan, a political morality play about a liberal Senator whose moral stand on a controversial Supreme Court case could lose him several friends.

This is a screenplay that Alda wrote while he was still a writer/director on “M*A*S*H” where his capacity for moving between comedy and drama, for me, ran hot and cold.  It is obvious that he is a passionate person whose sense of morality and justice are locked into every word.  He very often paints in wide flourishes and given his passion its admirable, but it can be a bit much.  Subtlety is not his best trait.  The bounce between comic and serious is sometimes laid out without a middle ground.

The story is tasty of not entirely surprising.  Alda plays Joe Tynan, a very Kennedy-esqe New York Senator who seems to have an easy path to the White House.  Currently he is weighing in on a nominee for the Supreme Court, yet over the course of the movie he will break faith with his wife Ellie (Barbara Harris) while pursuing a relationship with a lawyer named Karen (Meryl Streep) who has information on the nominee that is unfit to serve.  This would put him at odds with his long-time mentor, Senator Birney (Melvyn Douglas).

Pretty much all of Joe’s problems in the movie are laid out in the film’s title.  He is seduced by matters of the heart, matters of morality, matters of personal integrity.  The balancing act in one’s personal and professional life are always a tricky balancing act and Joe finds himself waffling between one thing or another.  Politics are an ugly business, one on which the fundamental tapestry of one’s own moral compass often has to be bent or abandoned.  If I sound like I’m pounding home the same point over and over, it should be noted that the movie does the same thing.

This is a very intelligent script, but again, not a subtle one.  Joe moves in the directions that we expect but Alda does a good job of creating a character that we care about.  And we understand his motivations.  We understand why he is loyal to Birney and why he is drawn to Karen.  We feel for his part-time status as a family man.  But the movie hammers home its point with a blunt instrument.

Alas, this is a good, but very frustrating movie because for all of its character designs, it never allows the story to calm down so that the characters can breathe.  Alda’s script has a trajectory and it not only rides a predictable track getting there, but runs the same ground over and over.  We’re not surprised by much that happens here.  It’s a good film, but one that could have benefitted from a re-write.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized