The Wild Campaign Film That Barry Goldwater Disowned

Ideological content aside, it's a pretty amazing piece of filmmaking.


I think the first place I read about the 1964 film Choice was in Mostly on the Edge, an enjoyable memoir by Sen. Barry Goldwater's speechwriter Karl Hess. At one point in Goldwater's presidential campaign, Hess wrote,

there was a briefing to review a television ad that supporters had put together to exploit the ever-present, always popular issue of moral decline in America. It was the sort of slimy self-righteous imagery that has come to dominate American politics today. It showed topless (but appropriately censored) women at a public beach and had the stern voice-over, holier-than-thou condemnation of the country's slide into moral decay. Before a word could be said, the senator turned to my son—then sixteen years old—and asked his opinion. Young Karl said the ad was silly, had nothing to do with the ideas of the campaign, and was dirty politics to boot. Goldwater agreed. That was it; the ad was pulled, and the campaign stuck to the high ground of principles and substantive issues.

Over at The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy notes that Choice can now be seen online. He adds some more historical context as well:

It's a doozy: fast cars, fast women, John Wayne. And more problematically, scenes of riots and civil rights protests portrayed in a way that led Goldwater to call it "a racist film" and demand that "Choice" not be shown on his behalf.

Clif White had been indispensable in helping Goldwater win the Republican nomination, but after that the candidate entrusted his campaign to others. Getting to make "Choice" was something of a consolation prize—but as Rick Perlstein writes in Before the Storm, in giving White permission to do a film on the "morality issue," Goldwater "didn't realize he had just become Truman giving MacArthur what the general thought was a green light to cross the Yalu." The film wasn't an official campaign product, but the campaign got the blame—both for the film itself and, from right-wing activists, for canceling it.

The movie is embedded below. If nothing else, watch the first minute and 40 seconds, which have a great early-'60s exploitation-flick vibe. And check out the minute-long montage that starts around 11:55—whatever else went into making this half hour of agitprop, the filmmakers clearly were having a blast. Oh, hell, just watch the whole thing:

Bonus link: Earlier this week I posted another video. Karl Hess was actually in that one.