Lee Tracy received his only Oscar nomination for portraying former president Art Hockstader in The Best Man.
Lee Tracy portrays the former president of the United States from the same party as the two front runners, and seems to be almost the unofficial head of the party. Both men seek his endorsement but Hockstader does not really like either man. Tracy has actually a rather difficult part to portray, since Art Hockstader was suppose to be some sort of great president who seems to be almost legendary whom almost everyone looks up to. Hockstader's presence has to to be undeniable.
Tracy is very good though actually is very good in showing the many sides of Hockstader but not all of his sides are that of a great man, but when he needs to be Tracy shows that side with great ability. In every scene where he meets someone or in his scene where he makes his speech before the primary begins, Tracy has the right politician sort of passion, and pride in this scene that is perfectly fitting. In his smaller greetings scene he again has a warmth of a respected elder statement that fits Hockstader's reputation.
Tracy perfectly positions these scenes in a broad contrast to the way Tracy portrays Hockstader in his behind closed door scenes. Tracy no longer shows a warm, prideful politician, but a cynical man of experience as he rips into both candidates for their faults. Tracy brings out all of Hockstader's the negative qualities out showing that the great man with his speeches is really just a facade. Tracy though shows an efficient inside politician, he shows a clear experience in these manners, and always has a firm control of his situation.
Tracy realizes the questionable politician very well as he sometimes viciously pressures the two men to test them, but in his old country style. Tracy mixes all of his down home, and dirty qualities into one man, who pretends to be a perfect idealist outwardly. It could have been easy to make Hockstader seem like an unrelated character, but Tracy does pull off the strange dynamic of a politician. It is a fascinating portrait of a cynical career politician, but not quite a perfect one only really for one reason.
The one reason is that even the characters who know him personally still think he is this tremendously great man for some reason despite his rather obvious flaws, but that really has far more to do with the script than with Tracy's performance. Although I will say it would have been an amazing performance if Tracy could have still seemed like a great man after showing the worst side of the man. Aside from that though this is a strong performance that works in harmony with the film.