“If it wasn’t for graft, you’d get a very low type of people in politics, men without ambition, jellyfish!”
As you might gather from this line, spoken early in the film, “The Great McGinty” does not offer a rosy view of politics. A year earlier, Jimmy Stewart proved that it was possible for an honest man to succeed in the US Senate. Nothing so heartwarming happens here.
Start with McGinty. He’s a bum with a quick temper who is none-too-scrupulous about his associations. He’ll do anything for anybody, so long as he gets paid, and even if he’s no whiz kid, he does know right from wrong. Wrong is the easiest way to earn a buck.
But then he marries a good woman — strictly for convenience, to enhance his chances of being elected mayor — and it’s all downhill from there.
Sure, he stands up for what’s right. He wants to be worthy of his lovely wife, and maybe he’d like to be remembered as an honest man.
Poor guy ends up in jail and the corrupt judge isn’t going to let him out anytime soon. So much for a redemptive ending. If you want one of those, stick with “Mr. Smith.”