Primary Colors

Synopsis: Jack Stanton is running for president. The election is seen through the eyes of young Henry Burton. Along the way Stanton must deal with a sex scandal.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director(s): Mike Nichols
Production: Universal
  Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 10 wins & 29 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
143 min

I've seen him do it a million

times, but I can't tell...

you how he does it, Henry.

The right-handed part.

I can tell you what does with his

left hand. He's a genius with it.

He might put that hand on your elbow

or your biceps, like he's doing now.

Basic movie. He's interested in

you. He's honored to meet you.

But if he gets any higher, if he gets

on your shoulder, like that...

it's not as intimate. He'll share a

laugh with you, a light secret.

And if he doesn't know you that well,

but wants to share something...

emotional he'll lock you

in a two-hander.

You'll see when he shakes hands

with you, Henry. Governor.

Governor Stanton, this is

Henry Burton.

I meet your grandfather when I was a boy.

I hitchhiked to Washington to hear

him speak. He was a great man.

Thank you, sir.

He's glad you're coming on

board, I can see.

I'm not coming on board. I'm

just meeting him.

No, no. Take it easy.

Why is he here? He's a southern

governor nobody knows.

You sound like a campaign

manager already.

-Howard, I'm not.

-I'm kidding.

If I said Stanton's here because he

cares about adult literacy...

-you'd say I was full of it.


Howard, Henry, this is Mariane Walsh,

the librarian who runs these classes.

Thank you, Governor Walsh.

Governor Stanton, I'm sorry.

I'm a little nervous.

I'm sorry.

If you'll walk with me, I'll take

you up to the library.

The walls are pretty bad, but

the library is much, um...


-Yes, yes.

We're very proud of the library.

When did you start the

reading program?

Three years ago. We have

very little money.

It's the only reading program like

it in Harlem I know of.

-There may be others, but I don't,...

-Know of them.

You okay?

-Are you okay?

-I'm fine.

I'm Ruby. I'm a domestic. I've

been in this class 2 months.

-Jack Washington. I'm a handyman.

-Hello, Jack.

-Twana Carter, waitress...

-Good to meet you.

Anthony Ramirez, freelance


I wanted to say welcome


What? I'm not on board.

I just...

-You're kidding, right?


Tell the governor a bit about

yourself, Dewayne.

I'm a short order chef.

And until I come here, I

couldn't read a lick.

Dewayne's dyslexic.

They just kept passing me up.

Third grade, fourth grade.

I just sit the back, sticking

to my own self.

It was like no one noticed.

And I went all the way through and

graduated elementary school.

They sent me to Ben Franklin...

that's general studies.

They could have sent me

to the Bronx Zoo.

No one ever said:

"Dewayne, you can't read.

What will you do with...

your sorry ass?" Excuse-me.

Anyway, graduation come and

my mama come.

She took the day off from the laundry

where she worked. So, we're there...

Dr. Dalembretti calls out the

names on the diplomas...

and what each kid done.

Like "Sharonna Harris,


"Tyrone Kirby, Regents Diploma."

And then...

he come to my name.

And he say, so everyone

heard it...

he said, "Dewayna Smith...

"receive a certificate...

of attendance."

You could hear people


A couple of folks laughed.

And I had to go up there and get

it. I had to stand up there...

just dying...

trying not to look at anyone.

Trying not to look too stupid.

And, uh...

Mama's in front. She has her hat

on and her purse in her lap...

tears coming down from behind

her glasses...

like someone... like

someone died.

I want to thank you...

for sharing that with us,


I want to thank you all for

having real courage.

My uncle Charlie was...

a war hero, in World War II.

He went to Iwo Jima, where

they raised the flag.

He took out four machine gun

nests of japaneses soldiers...

who had pinned down

his buddies.

Did it with one grenade, his rifle,

bayonet, and bare hands.


President Truman gave him

the Medal of Honor.

And when he came home,

there was a parade.

The town fathers came to my

parents' house and said:

"Charlie, what are you going to do

now" Charlie said he didn't know.

The mayor said,

"Maybe you'd like a college scholarship

in State University"

The banker said maybe Charlie

didn't want to go back to school.

Maybe he'd like a management

job with the bank.

And the sawmill owner said,

"Don't be cooped up...

in a school or bank. Come

manage my crew."

And you know what? Charlie

turned them all down.

-What did he do?


He just laid on the couch and smoked

Luckies. Couldn't get him off it.

Was he messed up in the head

from the war?


It was just that he

couldn't read.

He couldn't read and was too

embarrassed to tell anyone.

He had the courage to win

the Medal of Honor...

but didn't have the courage to do

what you're doing here.

He didn't have the courage to get

the help he needed.

So, know that I appreciate what

you're doing. And I honor it.

When people say, "Jack Stanton,

why spend so much...

effort on adult literacy?"

I say to them...

I say, " Because"...

it gives me a chance to

see courage."

I want to thank you.

I want to thank you for allowing

me to visit here today.

Let's get him out of here.

He likes it.

Governor Stanton, thank you

for coming today.

I will be damned.

I'm... Ooh! I'm sorry.

You're going to work for him.

Won't you?

No, I'm not. I'm just going to

meet him and talk.

-About what?

-Well, about going to work for him.

How can you quit on Adam Larkin

and get in bed with some...

Rate this script:5.0 / 1 vote

Elaine May

Elaine Iva May (née Berlin; born April 21, 1932) is an American screenwriter, film director, actress, and comedienne. She made her initial impact in the 1950s from her improvisational comedy routines with Mike Nichols, performing as Nichols and May. After her duo with Nichols ended, May subsequently developed a career as a director and screenwriter. Her screenwriting has been twice nominated for the Academy Award, for Heaven Can Wait (1978) and the Nichols-directed Primary Colors (1998). May is celebrated for the string of films she directed in the 1970s: her 1971 black comedy A New Leaf, in which she also starred; her 1972 dark romantic comedy The Heartbreak Kid; and her 1976 gritty drama Mikey and Nicky, starring John Cassavetes and Peter Falk. In 1996, she reunited with Nichols to write the screenplay for The Birdcage, directed by Nichols. After studying acting with theater coach Maria Ouspenskaya in Los Angeles, she moved to Chicago in 1955 and became a founding member of the Compass Players, an improvisational theater group. May began working alongside Nichols, who was also in the group, and together they began writing and performing their own comedy sketches, which were enormously popular. In 1957 they both quit the group to form their own stage act, Nichols and May, in New York. Jack Rollins, who produced most of Woody Allen's films, said their act was "so startling, so new, as fresh as could be. I was stunned by how really good they were."They performed nightly to mostly sold-out shows, in addition to making TV appearances and radio broadcasts. In their comedy act, they created satirical clichés and character types which made fun of the new intellectual, cultural, and social order that was just emerging at the time. In doing so, she was instrumental in removing the stereotype of women being unable to succeed at live comedy. Together, they became an inspiration to many younger comedians, including Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin. After four years, at the height of their fame, they decided to discontinue their act. May became a screenwriter and playwright, along with acting and directing. Their relatively brief time together as comedy stars led New York talk show host Dick Cavett to call their act "one of the comic meteors in the sky." Gerald Nachman noted that "Nichols and May are perhaps the most ardently missed of all the satirical comedians of their era." more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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