In 1982, as part of its anthology series Likely Stories, HBO aired a short film written and directed by Danny DeVito that has taken on depressing new relevance in 2016. In The Selling Of Vince D’Angelo, DeVito plays the title role of a cement contractor who decides to run for senate in New Jersey despite a near total lack of political experience. His campaign is almost heroically crass and tasteless, combining race-baiting, religious bigotry, fear-mongering, and vicious personal attacks on his opponents. The similarities to the current presidential campaign of real estate tycoon Donald Trump have not gone unnoticed. The Selling Of Vince D’Angelo was recently featured at Short Of The Week, where it was touted as “a prescient political parable.” The film’s producer, David Jablin, has also cut together a brief video that shows how some of D’Angelo’s rabble-rousing rhetoric has been echoed in real-life Trump speeches. Observe.
Trump could easily pick up a few pointers from the 21-minute film. Although he’s new to the game, D’Angelo is a master of political trickery. He has an answer for everything, and he’s never without a contingency plan in case plan A goes down the crapper. Caught on tape accepting bribes from a mobster? Not a problem. D’Angelo simply stages an assassination attempt on his own life to gain public sympathy. Here, DeVito is referencing Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, both of whom received boosts in popularity after attempts were made on their lives. Mud-slinging is another favorite tactic for the candidate. His flustered opponents are always on the defensive that way. Poor Pete Harrison (veteran comic and actor Tim Thomerson) has to deny the charge that he’s a homosexual and gives the classic “not that there’s anything wrong with it” alibi way before Seinfeld. Another candidate is shown mingling with communist leaders. Too bad the film takes place before Photoshop existed. D’Angelo would have loved it.
Beyond that, The Selling Of Vince D’Angelo is a prime pop culture artifact. DeVito is in full, conniving Louie DePalma mode here and having a blast. The cast is full of familiar faces, too, including DeVito’s wife, Rhea Perlman; future Wonder Years star Jason Hervey; The Rockford Files’ Joe Santos; and character actor Vincent Schiavelli, who appeared alongside DeVito in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Man On The Moon. Could any of them have known that this much of the film would eventually come true?