Primary Colors

Directed by Mike Nichols, Screenplay by Elaine May

Scene 1: Handshakes [scene runs from 00:30 to 02:07; for those with DVDs, it occurs near the beginning of chapter 1.]

Henry is a black man whose grandfather was apparently a prominent and well-respected figure. It appears that Henry has some experience in politics, but is not a politician himself. Stanton is a Southern Governor, who is apparently considering broader (most likely national) political office. It appears he would like to add Henry, based perhaps on the weight his (and his grandfather's) name carries, to his staff. Howard is describing to Henry how Stanton is able, with a handshake, to communicate.

Howard: You know I've seen him do it a million times now, but I can't tell you how he does it, Henry. The right-handed part. I can tell you a whole lot about what he does with the left hand though. He's a genius with it. He might put that left hand on your elbow, or up on your bicep, like he's doing now -- very basic move. He's interested in you. He's honored to meet you. But if it gets any higher, if it gets on your shoulder, like that, it is not as intimate. He means he'll share a laugh with you or a secret with you, a light secret. Not a real one. But very flattering. If he doesn't know you that well, and wants to share something emotional with you, he'll lock you in a two-hander. Well, you'll see when he shakes hands with you. [He introduces Henry to Stanton.] Governor, Governor Stanton, this is Henry Burton.

Henry: Governor.

Stanton: I meet your grandfather once when I was a boy. I hitchhiked to Washington to hear him speak. He was a great man.

Henry: Thank you, sir.

Howard: He's really glad you're coming on board, I can tell.

Henry: No, I didn't say I was coming on board. I said I'd meet with him. Did you tell him I was coming on board?

Howard: No, no, no. Take it easy.

Henry: What the hell is he doing up here anyway? He's a Southern Governor nobody's heard of.

Howard: See, already you're sounding like a campaign manager.

Henry: Howard, I said...

Howard: I'm kidding. I'm kidding.

Scene 2: Hot tea [scene runs from 15:38 to 19:06; for those with DVDs, it occurs during the last three and a half minutes of chapter 5.]

Henry comes along to Connecticut with Governor Stanton on his campaign in Connecticut, where Mrs. Stanton has been managing affairs until her husband's arrival. She meets them at the airport, complaining that her husband missed an important political function he had scheduled. In the following scene, Governor Stanton has retired after a long trip, and she and Henry discuss politics in the suite of their hotel room. She fixes him a cup of tea.

Susan: Why did you quit Larkin? Why did you stop working for Adam Larkin? Careful it's hot.

Susan hands Henry cup of hot tea

Henry: Thank you. Well I just uh...

Susan: It's all right, I know you can't talk about your old boss to your new boss.

Henry: Well I haven't got a new boss yet.

Susan: [washing the make-up off her face] Larkin is very different from Jack, very cool. Never blinks. A pro.

Henry burns himself with the tea

Susan: He would never swallow tea without testing it. That's the real thing experience teaches you, isn't it? How not to get burned.

Henry: Do you think people ever learn that?

Susan: Not the best people.

Henry: He umm, Adam taught me a lot but it was all the same. He never surprised me. Do you know, almost no one stepped up to vote with us because it was right? They'd always asked for a lulu.

Susan: Lulu?

Henry: Um, yeah, it's the New York for artificial sweetener. Any way, we'd win. And then we'd be gutted in the Senate. We'd settled for their version and then the White House would veto, which we knew from the start. And, what? We'd celebrate our great moral victory, we forced the veto.

Susan: So you dropped out.

Henry: Yeah.

Susan: So why are you here?

Henry: I...

Susan: Tell me. Tell me. It's four in the morning, let's just tell the truth.

Henry: O.K. Well, I was always curious how it would be to work with someone who actually cared about.... I mean, it couldn't have always been the way it is now. It must have been very different when my grandfather was alive. Hey, you were there. You had Kennedy. I didn't. I've never heard a president use words like destiny and sacrifice without thinking, "bullshit." And, O.K., maybe it was bullshit with Kennedy too, but people believed it. And, I guess, that is what I want. I want to believe it too. I want to be part of something, that is history. And I bet this is the longest answer to a five-word question you have ever gotten.

Susan: No it isn't. The longest answer to a five-word question I've ever gotten is the answer to "do you do much fly-fishing?" It's a good answer Henry. History is what we're about, too. What else is there?

Scene 3: Moment of Truth [scene runs from 1:54:43 to 2:02:30 for those with DVDs, it occurs one and a half minute into ch. 34 to the end of that chapter.]

Henry and Libby, an old friend and supporter of the Stantons, now work for the campaign of Governor Jack Stanton. They have been sent out to "dig up dirt" on Jack's opponent, Fred Picker. The information Libby gives Susan and Jack Stanton includes an account of Picker's drug use and a questionable business transaction, referred to as "Clear Water," both of which took place twenty years ago.

Libby: Here Governor, feast your eyes, you too m'lady. Henry, a transcript of our tour.

Stanton: This, this is remarkable. How on earth did he ever think he was going to get away with this? Now, what do we do with this?

Susan: The Times. No, the Wall Street Journal maybe, more authoritative in a way. Through an intermediary, someone not associated with the campaign.

Libby: I don't think so.

Stanton: What do you mean?

Libby: I don't think there is anything of use here.

Stanton: You've gotta be kidding?

Libby: No. Doesn't meet my standards.

Susan: What on earth do you mean?

Libby: I mean, madame, Henry and I don't think the use of this material is proper. We have a moral objection, and I have an historical beef.

Stanton: Come on Libby. Why did you go out and get it if you weren't going to use it?

Libby: Because Susan was right, he could have been a real shit. I didn't think he would be, and he isn't. But he could have been. But, Jackie, my dearest, you're off the ****ing point. The point is we don't do this sort of thing. Oh, I'll be relentless busting dust and guarding your ass. I'd have even blown Randy Culligan's weenie off for you - well, maybe I would have. But, this is something else again. This is hurting someone else. This sucks. You want to know why this sucks? Because, you told me so. Remember when Jackie? Well, let me refresh your memory. [She pulls out old photographs of the three of them.] Weren't they gorgeous Henry?

Henry: Yeah, but look at you.

Libby: You little shit. I told you I used to have a waist.

Stanton: Libby...

Libby: Hush up, don't ruin it. Do you remember when this was? You don't, do you?

Susan: Miami headquarters in '72.

Libby: Yeah, it was taken just after the convention, Henry. I'll never forget that convention.

Susan: Libby, for Christ sake, what are you doing? What is the point?

Libby: The point is Eagleton. Remember, Jack. I must have known you what, two days then? We hear that McGovern has chosen a vice-president who had electric shock treatments. And, for the first time I actually considered the possibility that we would actually loose to that ****-brain Nixon. I mean, before that I was actually convinced that we would win. Can you imagine that, Henry? We were so ****ing young. And this one, this one, he takes me out. We go to this little open-air Cuban joint. Remember, Jack, I got my head in my hands, my life has ended. And I said, "They did it -- the CIA. It had to be the CIA." I couldn't believe that Tom Eagleton could really be a nut case. They had to have dragged him off and drugged him and made him crazy. It couldn't have been that McGovern was just a complete ****ing amateur. No, they did dirty tricks, and I said to Jack, "We've got to get the same capability of the CIA." Remember, Jack? We've got to be able to do dirt too." And you said, "no. Our job is to end all that. Our job is to make it clean. Because if it is clean, we win, because our ideas are better." Do you remember that, Jack?

Stanton: That was a long time ago.

Susan: Libby, you said it yourself, we were young. We did not know how the world worked. Now we know. We know that if we don't move on this Picker situation we know two things will happen. The first is we're dead. Everything we've worked for since Miami twenty-five years ago dies and fast. The second thing that happens is that some day very soon when the romance dies, when they have gotten sick of Freddy Picker's quite righteous act, when they want to pull his wings off, some enterprising journalist will stumble onto this. And if he doesn't, the Republicans will beat him to it on their time-table next fall. It will be another Eagleton, only this time it will be our fault this time, for letting it happen. Your fault, Libby.

Libby: Honey, you may be right. All of them may be right. But we can't do it because it just ain't who we're supposed to be.

Stanton: Maybe we could leak part of it, the Clear Water stuff. We know the Republicans have that.

Susan: Christ Jack, you think they're not gonna have the rest any day now? You think Reyes is only gonna tell this story once. I'm sorry, Libby. There is just no discussion.

Libby: You're right. None. Henry and me have already decided that this dies here.

Susan: I don't think so.

Libby: I'm sorry, sweetheart, but it does. And here is why. Do you know what this is? Test results on Jack's blood. Uncle Charlie's blood taken over the years. And this, this is the blood test report that Jack gave me that proves he's not the father of Loretta McCollister's baby. And you know what, Jack? It's not your blood. Isn't that a riot? The blood sample Dr. Beauregard took was not from you. It was from Uncle Charlie. You sent him to have his blood tested in your place because you know good old Dr. Beauregard loves you and wants to teach those Yankees a lesson. Well, he's not gonna love you enough to lose his license, Jack. Once he knows I have proof, he'll fold like a cheap accordion. I know that won't prove you are the father of Loretta's baby. In fact, I think you're not. But it proves you thought you might be. And that proves you ****ed her. And that will kill your chances.

Susan: You would do that? You would end his political career?

Libby: You see, Jack? She hasn't even heard. She isn't even upset that you ****ed your seventeen-year-old babysitter. You know why? It is never the cheat who goes to hell. It's always the one he cheated on. That's why you can still talk in that tenderhearted voice about being in it for the folks. And Susie here can only talk in that voice from hell about your political career. Now what kind of shit is that, Jack? Oh, excuse me, I forgot. It's the same old shit. It's the shit no one ever calls you on. Ever. Because you are so completely, ****ing special. Because, everyone is so proud of you. Me too. Me the worst. It just makes it a whole lot easier for me. I mean it's totally depressing. What have I been doing this for, my whole pathetic ****ing life? So here is the deal. If you move on Freddy Picker, who, I think, we all agree is a flawed, but decent man. I move on you. Yes, I will destroy this village in order to save it.

Libby exits.

Susan: Henry, tomorrow we....

Henry follows Libby out.

Scene 4: Resignation? [scene runs from 2:09:59 to 2:15:46 for those with DVDs, it covers ch. 38 and the beginning of ch. 39]

Libby's profound disappointment in the Stantons has caused her to commit suicide. Before she did so, she sent the evidence incriminating Stanton back to him. Stanton then went, with Henry, to the home of his opponent Fred Picker and gave him the final copy of the report, written by Libby, which recounts Picker's indiscretions. Henry and Stanton are leaving Picker's home.

Stanton: (singing)
I can still hear the soft summer wind in the live oak tree.
And those Williams boys, they still mean a lot to me,
Hank and Tennessee.
I guess we're all gonna be what were gonna be.
So what do you do with good ol' boys like me?

You know I love that song. The line about the Williams boys, it's never just Hank. The picture ain't ever complete without ol' Tennessee.

Henry: Governor, I am resigning from the campaign.

Stanton: I don't accept your resignation.

Henry: Look, I just don't feel comfortable about this anymore.

Stanton: About what?

Henry: This, this, this line of work.

Stanton: I spoke to Richard, he's back on board. I am putting him in charge. Campaign manager. He's probably in the office right now. I am bringing Daisy back too if she'll come.

Henry: That is not what this is about.

Stanton: Then what is it?

Henry: Libby. Libby's test, we flunked it.

Stanton: Yeah, but just now I passed it, so which grade do I get Henry the high or the low?

Henry: If she hadn't died...

Stanton: If she hadn't died, I'd have leaked the file to someone and I'd have felt bad about it, but you know what, I would have been wrong not to do it. What I did now I did for Libby. But it wasn't right. If Picker hadn't quit, he'd have won the nomination, gone down, and taken the party down with him. It was only a question of when.

Henry: And how and who pushed him off the cliff when he was falling.

Stanton: That's right but those are fine points, Henry. Those are how many angles can you fit on the head of a pin points. This is hard ball. Are you telling me that you just discovered that and you don't have the stomach for it? I know you better than that. We've spent too much time together.

Stanton: This is it Henry, this is the price you pay to lead. You don't think that Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was President? He had to tell his little stories and smile his shit-eating backcountry grin. And he did it just so that one day he would have the opportunity to stand before the whole nation and appeal to the better angels of our nature. And that's where the bullshit stops. That's what it's all about. So we have the opportunity to make the most of it, to do it the right way. You know as well as I do, there are plenty of people playing this game that don't think that way. They are willing to sell their souls, crawl through sewers, lie to people, divide them, and prey on their worst fears for nothing. Just for the prize.

Henry: I don't care. I'm sorry, but I am not comparing the players, I don't like the game. I want to work for something small. Voter registration.

Stanton: And after everyone is registered who will they vote for? In the end, Henry, who can do this better than me? Think about it. Is there anyone else out there with a chance to actually win this election? Who'd do more for the people than I would? Who'd even think about the folks I care about?

Henry: They see a car with reporters drives up. Ah, shit. Is that them? So quick. That damn driver, I knew it.

Stanton: All right, we'll go talk to them together. Come on. Ah, don't shake your head Henry. We worked so hard together to get there. And it is there for us now, right there. We can do incredible things. We can change this whole country. I am going to win this thing, and when I do, we are going to make history. Look me in the eye and tell me it's not going to happen. Look me in the eye, Henry, and tell me you don't want to be a part of it. Jesus, Jesus -- Henry. You want me to get down on my knees? I can't do it without you. Don't leave me now. You're still with me, aren't you? Say you are. Say it. Say it. Henry this is ridiculous, you've got to be with me.

The camera cuts to an Inaugural Ball. The Stantons are dancing to the Tennessee Waltz. When the dance ends, they make the rounds, shaking hands. Henry is in the crowd.

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