Talk about an all-star cast: when Otto Preminger brought Allan Drury's epic study of a Senate confirmation of a morally ambiguous nominee for Secretary of State, he got just about everyone in Hollywood to participate. Though the best roles go to Charles Laughton as a manipulative (but intensely likeable) South Carolina senator and Franchot Tone as the tortured President, not everyone got so lucky; the novel had so many characters that some big actors (like Gene Tierney, wasted as a Washington hostess) are pretty much trapped in throwaway roles.
Preminger was pretty progressive by Hollywood standards, and so the Senate he depicts is remarkably diverse, with senators of many ethnic backgrounds. There's a great cameo (the film's standout moment) from Betty White, who, as a shrewd Kansas senator, trounces George Grizzard, the despicable Senator Van Ackerman (from Wyoming, of course, so as to offend the least number of audience members possible) in open debate on the Senate floor. Preminger was really daring (for the time) in his willingness to tackle the subject of the blackmail of homosexuals in the film. It should be said, however, that the film's notorious depiction of a gay bar (the first Hollywood film to do so openly since the institution of the Hays code) as a nightmarish cesspool of vice, where the fat effeminate bartender hysterically beckons in the horrified Don Murray (see my title), probably did more to keep gay men in the closet in the Sixties than anything Hollywood ever did.
Advise and Consent is really quite a remarkable film. You'd have to search high and low to find a higher-caliber cast, the script's behind-the-scenes look at the reality of politics remains just a relevant today as it was in 1962, and the whole presentation is just flawless. Heck, even Peter Lawford's good in this movie. That Otto Preminger really knew what he was doing; the man still doesn't get all the credit he deserves. I think he must have had his own super-secret superior cameras because the clarity and overall video quality of this film is beyond amazing. This thing looks sharper and better than most movies being churned out today.
The basic premise of the film is rather simple. The President has nominated a controversial man to become Secretary of State, dropping the nomination like a little bomb on his own party and thus setting the stage for a good bit of ugliness in the Senate - with most of the trouble coming from the President's own majority party. On one end, there's a brash, still-wet-behind-the-ears primadonna who wants to use the media attention to make a name for himself; on the other end is an old curmudgeon of the Senate who opposes the nominee largely for personal reasons. The minority party (led by none other than Will "Grandpa Walton" Geer) pretty much sits back and enjoys the show- but this isn't fun and games, at all. The nominee faces charges that he was at one time a Communist, and the back alley manipulations of unscrupulous Senators push the chairman of the relevant subcommittee to the breaking point. The politics of this era played out in exaggeratedly civil terms, but deep down it was just as ugly as anything you'll see today on the floor of the Senate, where civility has quite disappeared.
The only thing that has been lost over the decades since this film was released in 1962 is the close connection between the men on the screen and the actual power players of Washington during that era. The story was fictitious, but Pulitzer-Prize winning author Alan Drury crafted the novel upon which the film is based on real people and events. Peter Lawford, appropriately enough, played a Senator modeled on JFK, George Grizzard's character supposedly represented Joseph McCarthy (although I find him quite unlike that great patriot), etc. I thought this was going to be some subtle dramatization of McCarthy's crusade against Communists, but it goes much deeper into the heart of power than that. In fact, Robert Leffingwell (played masterfully by Henry Fonda), the nominee accused of Communist associations, gets surprisingly little screen time. Stealing the show, most viewers would agree, is Charles Laughton as the Honorable Senator from South Carolina, a man adamantly opposed to the President's nomination and willing to go to great lengths to see Mr. Leffingwell turned away at the gate. With his charming (albeit unauthentic) Southern drawl and constant the-cat-who-ate-the-canary facial expressions, he proves himself quite a force to be reckoned with. As the movie progresses, however, the focus shifts more and more toward Senator Bigham Anderson, the sub-committee chairman who eventually butts heads with the President and learns that the extraordinary act of putting principles over politics can be a dangerous business. Personally, though, I thought Walter Pidgeon gave the best performance of all in his role as the Senate Majority Leader, one of the few characters to emerge in the end as a man of both practicality and honor.
I have to think this was a pretty bold film for its time, particularly in terms of the story's most startling revelation. Nowadays, we know just how ugly politics really is, but I doubt too many men had shone a flashlight of truth into the Senate's hallowed halls before 1962. Sadly, today's audiences may find all the hullabaloo of this story exceedingly tame, yet there's no taking away from the power this film still possesses. Politics was, is, and always will be a sort of game to many elected officials. They get down in the mud and wallow largely because they enjoy it, especially if it gets their faces on the national news. Far too often, though, the games of these petty men and women are taken much too far, and that leads to tragedy - for individuals, for parties, and for the whole country. This film's truths are today's truths, and as long as Senators pitch hissy fits on all sides over the process of exercising their Constitutional duty to advise and consent and, more importantly, put their own selfish, vindictive motives over the interests of the men and women they are supposed to represent, this film will remain as relevant as it ever was.
As a Congressional correspondent for the New York Times during the 1950s, author Allen Drury had ample opportunity to witness Washington politicians in their natural habit---and drew upon numerous factual sources, including the controversial Alger Hiss case and the scandalous suicide of Senator Lester Hunt, to create the story of a controversial nominee for Secretary of State. The novel was not only a best seller, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
It was also a book that Hollywood could not film under the film industry's notorious Production Code. As it happened, the book fell into the hands of director Otto Preminger, long-time foe of Hollywood's rules for self-censorship. He not only made the film, he flagrantly broke the code; as such, ADVISE AND CONSENT presents our nation's leaders embroiled in a blackmail plot, finds actress Gene Tierney using the word `bitch,' and became the first Hollywood film to show a gay bar. It was shocking stuff for 1962.
The story is extremely convoluted. An aging and extremely ill President makes a highly controversial nomination for Secretary of State---which is opposed by a member of his own party, who bears the nominee a personal grudge and who attempts to derail the nomination by accusing the nominee of former membership in the Communist Party. This in turn touches off a vicious battle between those in the party who support the nominee and those who don't, a battle that will ultimately result in the suicide of the only character who has the integrity we would like to see in our political leaders.
The cast is indeed remarkable and, from Lew Ayres to Betty White, plays with considerable conviction and tremendous restraint. Henry Fonda is often cited as the star of the film, but in truth he appears in the small but pivotal role of Robert Leffingwell, nominee for Secretary of State. Screen time is divided between Walter Pigeon as the Majority Leader, Charles Laughton as the senator who opposes the nomination, and Don Murray, an idealist who finds himself chairing the nomination committee. All three play extremely well, but it is really Laughton---in his final screen role---who walks off with the film as the devious and openly vicious Senator from South Carolina. The trio is ably supported by a dream cast that includes Franchot Tone as the President, Lew Ayres as the Vice President, George Grizzard as a growling ideologue, Gene Tierney as a society hostess---and yes, Betty White, who offers a brief turn as the Senator from Kansas.
It has become fashionable to dismiss Otto Preminger films of the 1950s and 1960s as ponderous, all-star, and pseudo-intellectual trash, and indeed it is difficult to find much positive to say about films like EXODUS and HURRY SUNDOWN these days. But Preminger is in many ways under-rated; his films have not always dated well in terms of subject, but they hold up extremely well in the way in which they are put together, with ADVISE AND CONSENT a case in point---and it is worth pointing out that accusations of leftism, adultery, and homosexuality are still enough to prompt everything from impeachment to congressional hearings to resignations. Nor has the process of the political dance itself changed greatly between then and now.
The great flaw of the film is its conclusion, which seems facile to the point of being hokey---but this is also the great flaw of the novel, which ends in much the same way--and at times ADVISE AND CONSENT seems more than a little dry. All the same, it remains a movie worth watching, particularly notable for its performances, fluid camera work, and meticulous recreation of party politics. The DVD offers a near-pristine widescreen transfer with good sound quality and an interesting, if occasionally too academic, commentary by film historian Drew Casper. Recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on December 11, 2001
This ultra-realistic 1962 drama of the goings-on in Washington, D.C. must rank as one of the best films of its type ever made. It's a lengthy one (2 hrs., 19 min.), but it never gets dry. The many veteran actors assembled to comprise this cast see to that. The roster includes Henry Fonda, Franchot Tone, Charles Laughton, Lew Ayres, Walter Pidgeon, and Burgess Meredith! There's also Don Murray, who probably gets more screen time here than anyone else. And I think Murray shines bright in his role as the senator with a deep, dark secret! Pidgeon is also particularly convincing in this film. This was Mr. Laughton's final motion picture.
If you've never seen Advise & Consent ..... then get it today! It's a thoroughly engrossing and powerful movie experience!
on October 11, 2015
Academy Award nominations: None
March Boy nominations: Picture, Director-Otto Preminger, Supporting Actor-Charles Laughton, Supporting Actor-Don Murray, Supporting Actress-Inga Swenson, Screenplay, Original Score, Black and White Cinematography and Black and White Set Design.
Advice and Consent is a movie so full of complex characterizations, intrigue, twists and turns that I can’t quite do it justice explaining it, even after two viewings. On face value, it seems to fall under the typical message films that political satires back then (The Manchurian Candidate, Mr. Smith goes to Washington and All the King’s Men just to name a few) hammered to their audience—that people are basically honorable or corrupt by their own choice and power only brings it out more—but even the four main protagonists have a certain amount of sin in their lives too—the only difference between them and Frederick van Ackerman (the main antagonist) is that they are aware of it and choose to fight it—or if they succumb they’re consciences are clean enough to where they want to smooth it over and do the right thing.
Throughout the film we see a study of the public and private lives of three senators’ and one Secretary of State nominee and they are all so brilliantly acted and written that each one of them has a certain aspect of likeability despite their flaws.
1. Robert Leffingwell is nominated by the President as the Secretary of State. However, scared for his reputation he lies under oath during a subcommittee evaluation when faced with charges of once being associated with the American Communist Party when he was a college student. Saddened, that he lost his sense of morality for a moment, he tells the President the truth and begs him to withdraw his nomination.
2. Robert Munson is the Senate Majority Leader. Despite being a playboy in his private life, he treats every senator with dignity and respect and isn’t afraid to call a spade and spade when he sees one which is seen in his confrontations with Seabright Cooley and Frederick van Ackerman towards the end of the film.
3. Seabright Cooley, the senator from South Carolina is all bluff but there is no real harm in him. His playful sarcasm makes him almost impossible not to like whether you agree with where he stands on the issues or not. Yet he is not so high and mighty that he will not openly humble himself and apologize without making excuses when he realizes he has gone too far in his political maneuvering—as is seen in his final speech.
4. Brigham Anderson, the Senator from Utah is the youngest of the group. He is a kind gentle soul who loves him family and treats all the other senators—even the vipers like Frederick—with respect. He is not an opportunist who blows in the wind for the sake of political gain—he merely wants to know the truth about Leffingwell and when he makes a decision to vote yes or no it’s always for a firm, deeply rooted conviction. He never attacks anyone for disagreeing with him or tries to throw rocks through the windows of their private lives for he knows FULL WELL that his own are made of the THINEST GLASS. It occurred to me there must be hundreds of people like him who have a little something they don’t want anyone to know about and wish they could undo so they try to do as many good deeds as possible to cleanse their consciences while living in constant fear of discovery. Brigham definitely set himself up for the slaughter getting involved in politics but maybe he sincerely felt called to run for senate because of his good intentions (Hence his speech to his wife about how “If I vote ‘Yes’ for Leffingwell everything I’ve ever stood for and believed in will crumble into dust”) and decided in the end that it was worth the risk.
The acting is all solid throughout with Charles Laughton and Don Murray as the standouts. Laughton (Seabright) delivers his lines with crisp speed and wit and provides quite a bit of comic relief. His delivery of “I haven’t had so much fun since the cayenne pepper hit the floor” is a classic. Murray (Brigham) is handsome and brings just the right amount of sweet, gentle family-man charm to his character and the way he slowly and quietly unravels emotionally and psychologically (like peeling away at the layers of an onion) will tear your heart out. Even though you know what he’s going to do at the end, you can’t help but feel a tinge of hope that maybe JUST MAYBE he will come out on top somehow. When I first saw the film, in his last scene, I wanted to see him “let it all out” cry and scream to the top of his lungs and tear up his office in a fit of anguish and despair but now I think that is just the lazy way to play these kinds of characters. That last close up of his face (especially those glistening eyes) as his wife is ringing for him struck just the right amount of emotional power and will stay with you for a long time--you can tell he has resigned himself to his fate.
Inga Swenson likewise gives a very powerful performance as his strong devoted wife Ellen. Even though she only has two or three major scenes towards the end she really makes the most of them—the part where she hugs her husband and tells him “I don’t care what they’re holding over your head! I could never leave you! I love you so much!” is a real tear jerker.
The screenplay is richly detailed and beautifully written with moments of wit, humor and poignancy. My favorite bits are:
1. “Son this is a Washington D.C. kind of lie.” Mr. Leffingwell explains when he tells his son to tell the Senate Majority Leader Robert Munson on the telephone that he is not at home. “It’s when the other guy knows you’re lying and also you know that he knows.”
2. The French lady in the balcony asks the British lady “Why do the Democrats sit on the left and the Republicans sit on the right?” The British lady says “Oh no darling. It’s purely geographical. They’re all liberals and conservatives but no communists or anything of that sort. The only difference is the liberals don’t always sit on the left and the conservatives don’t always sit on the right.” Very true then and now.
All in all a very great watch and great for discussions.
Here's a chance to see one of the greatest actors of the 20th century in his final film. Charles Laughton (1899-1962) stars in "Advise and Consent", the 1962 film based on the1959 best selling Pulitzer Prize winning novel by NY Times Congressional Correspondent Allen Drury.
Laughton is arguably the most capable actor in Hollywood's golden era. His performances in films such as "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1936) and "Witness for the Prosecution " (1958) are peerless, and when you consider he received best actor nominations for both films, separated by more than 20 years, this by itself speaks volumes. He won the best actor award for his portrayal in another British bio pic "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933) and gave unforgettable performances as Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Norte Dame" (1939), Inspector Javert in "Les Miserables" (1935). To this date, despite all the remakes, his performances as Captain Bligh, Quasimodo, and Inspector Javert remain the gold standard. Laughton died 6 months after the film's release.
Laughton shares the screen with a formidable cast including Oscar and Emmy winning/nominated actors like Henry Fonda, Walter Pidgeon, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, Gene Tierney, Will Geer, Betty White and Lew Ayres. Rarely has a film ever had such a highly acclaimed cast.
Henry Fonda (1905-82) needs little introduction. AFI lists him as the 6th Greatest Male Star of All Time. He won one Oscar ("On Golden Pond") and was nominated for 2 more ("The Grapes of Wrath", "12 Angry Men"), plus 3 Emmy nominations, 2 Golden Globe nominations, and he won a Tony for "Mister Roberts" (1948). Fonda plays the nominee for Secretary of State.
In a 64 year career Burgess Meredith (1907-97) was nominated for an Oscar twice ("Rocky" and "The Day of the Locust") and won an Emmy for "Tail Gunner Joe" (1977). Older viewers may know him best as the Penquin from the "Batman" TV series (1966-8). Meredith plays a surprise witness at the confirmation hearings.
Lew Ayres (1908-96) performance in "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930) propelled him to early stardom. He was nominated for an Oscar for "Johnny Belinda" (1948) and for an Emmy for a guest appearance on "Kung Fu" (1972). He's probably best known from his portrayal as Dr. Kildare in a series of 40s films. Ayres plays the Vice President.
Walter Pigeon (1897-1984) appeared in more than 100 films between 1926 and 1978. He's best known for his Oscar nominated performances in "Mrs. Miniver" (1943) and "Madame Curie" (1944), although I liked him best as Dr. Morbius from "The Forbidden Planet" (1956). Pigeon's philosophy was - "Maybe it was better never to become red hot. I'd seen performers like that and they never lasted long." Pidgeon plays the Senate Majority Leader.
Franchot Tone (1905-68) co-starred with Laughton in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935) for which he was nominated for a Best Actor award (Victor McLaglen won for "The Informer" even though Mutiny won for Best Picture). He'd also been in the successful "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935) and more than a dozen films in which he often played the spoiled rich guy. Tone plays the President.
Gene Tierney (1920-91) was nominated for an Oscar for "Leave Her to Heaven" (1944) and appeared in more than 40 films, the most notable of which were "Tobacco Road" (1941), "Laura" (1944), "Razor's Edge" (1946), and "The Left Hand of God" (1955). She was known for her escapades with famous personalities like Tyrone Power, Ally Kahn, and JFK. Tierney was a favorite of director Otto Preminger who used here in a half dozen of his films.
Will Geer (1902-78) is best known from his Emmy winning role as Grandpa in "The Waltons" (1972-81). He appeared in more than 100 films and TV programs. I remember him best as ol' Bear Claw from "Jeremiah Johnson" (1972) for which he won a Bronze Wrangler award. Geer plays the Senate Minority Leader.
The irrepressible Betty White (1922) is one of only 2 members of the cast still going strong in 2011. This was her feature film debut. White is best known for her TV work where she won 5 Emmys between 1975 ("Mary Tyler Moore") and 2010 ("Saturday Night Live"), and a SAG for "Hot in Cleveland" (2011). White plays a Senator.
Don Murray (1929) was nominated for an Oscar for "Bus Stop" (1956) though he's probably better known for his role in "Knots Landing" (1979-81). Murray plays a Senator.
Also in the cast are Paul Ford, Peter and Lawford,
Paul Ford (1901-76), E.G. Marshall (1914-98) is best remembered as the hilarious Col. Hall on "The Phil Silvers Show" (1955-9). Ford plays the Senate Majority Whip.
Peter Lawford (1923-84) is best known as a "Rat Pack" member and brother-in-law to JFK. His better films included "The Longest Day" (1962) and "Never So Few" (1959).
The film was produced and directed by Otto Preminger (1905-86). In a 5 decade career he made 41 films, was nominated for an Oscar 3 times ("Laura", "Anatomy of a Murder", "The Cardinal") and a Palme d'Or 3 times ("Carmen Jones", "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon", "Advise and Consent").
Preminger challenged Hollywood and Main Street by employing actors who had been blacklisted (Burgess Meredith and Will Geer) and by openly dealing with homosexuality.
Variety said that the film was "intermittently well dialogued and too talky, and, strangely, arrested in its development and illogical" but they praised the "wholly capable performers" and said "the characterizations come through with fine clarity." The NY Times bemoaned that the film makers "have loaded their drama with rascals to show the types in Washington" and called it "sassy, stinging" and a "brisk whirl on the Washington merry-go-round."
1962 was a good year for films. The top grossing films were "Lawrence of Arabia", "The Longest Day", "In Search of the Castaways", "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane", and "The Music Man". Oscars went to "Lawrence of Arabia" (Picture, Director), "To Kill a Mockingbird" (Actor), "The Miracle Worker" (Actress, Supporting Actress), and "Sweet Bird of Youth" (Supporting Actor). Other notable films released that year include "Dr. No", "Jules and Jim", "Lolita", "The Manchurian Candidate", and "Mondo Cane". Hope and Crosby released their final "Road" film.
This is one of the few films to deal with the nitty gritty of political deal making, although it is deal making circa late 1950s and is merely suggestive of what happens today. A great script, fine acting, and a final bravura performance from one of the acting titans of the 20th Century. It really doesn't get better than this.
on December 25, 2013
It's always fascinating to watch movies made and set a generation or more ago to compare the political and artistic beliefs of today with those when the film was made. In the case of Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent, comparison of the political process in the early 1960s to that of today shows just how far things have changed, and not necessarily for the better.
Advise and Consent was based on a highly popular novel by Alan Drury that gave many people an insider's look for the first time at the nuts and bolts of the political process, which wasn't pretty then or now. The President of the United States has nominated a brilliant intellectual (Henry Fonda) as the new Secretary of State, but Fonda's world view is seen by many as being too soft on communism. The Senate majority leader (Walter Pidgeon) names a relatively junior senator (Don Murray) to head the committee reviewing the nomination. However, the more the committee investigates, the more it appears that Fonda may actually have been associated with Communist groups in the past and lied about it. Heading the opposition to the nomination is Charles Laughton, in his last movie, oozing courtliness and a perfect Southern accent as a good old boy from South Carolina.
Both the cast and the screenplay are top notch here. Although Fonda is top billed, it's a true ensemble piece, as his character practically disappears in the second half of the film. Instead, the plot turns on an attempt by another junior senator (George Grizzard) to blackmail Murray into dropping his opposition by threatening to bring up a gay encounter Murray had during World War II. Although this type of storyline today would probably be seen as too tame to matter by audiences and voters alike, even discussing the issue (and setting a bizarre scene in a gay bar) in 1962 was highly controversial. The resolution of Murray's conflicted dilemma proves the emotional centerpiece of the movie.
The film has too many other subplots and intrigues to mention in a brief review, but what is truly fascinating is the difference between the political climate then and now. While it's true that accusing a political nominee of being soft on communism wouldn't matter much at all today, what shines through in Advise and Consent is the underlying spirit of decency and cooperation among most of the Senators (with the notable exception of Grizzard's extremely out-of-touch hardline idealist). Pidgeon, Laughton, Murray, and Grizzard are all members of the same unnamed party... the opposition pretty much sits on the sideline as the battles play out. But despite their differences, the Senators all want to do the same thing, determine whether Fonda as a person is right for the job. By contrast, a similar contest today would undoubtedly be considerably less civil and considerably less about the individual's qualifications and more about scoring political points.
Although the movie certainly doesn't have a "happy" ending, it does end by confirming the effectiveness of the Constitutional process in its day. What it also provides for audiences is a riveting 2 1/2 hours of drama and melodrama that combines great acting with an interesting lesson in government and politics.
on September 28, 2001
Otto Preminger's film version of Allen Drury's classic political novel was quite the event in 1962 but today, it all seems quite tame. Both the film and novel deal with the political intrigues surrounding the nomination of Robert Leffingwell to be Secretary of State. Drury's deeply cynical novel drew its power through its complex characterizations and its then shocking portrait of an American government dominated by self-interest and hypocricy. Preminger, in his film version, actually tones down the novel but, on the whole, sticks to Drury's basic vision. The film does a pretty good job of establishing the many different conflicts and subplots that swirl around Leffingwell's nomination but the film's characters are never quite as vibrant as they are in Drury's novel. As a director, Preminger usually alternated between being excessively lurid or courageously honest. Here, perhaps intimidated by the scope of the film, Preminger's direction is sadly stodgy and, if not for several fine perfomances, the film's pace would probably be too draggy for most viewers. As well, in today's times, much of the film's controversy seems rather dated. We're no longer shocked to see the President presented as a devious power broker or to find out that a Senator is secretly homosexual. However, in 1962, these were truly bold statements to make. The film has been rightfully criticized for its trashy portrayal of homosexuals (with the prerequisite decadent sax blaring when closeted Don Murray desperately runs from one gay tiki bar to another) but at the same time, its also one of the few films of that era in which a gay character is presented sympathetically and certainly Preminger made a strong statement, for the time, by casting clean-cut, Mormon Murray in the role as opposed to the typically shifty people usually given such parts.
That said, this is a film that will entertain political junkies. The portrayal of the workings of the U.S. Senate are fairly realistic and the storyline is nicely complex and doesn't reduce the issues to the typical black-and-white issues of most overtly political films. The cast is literally all-star with Henry Fonda and Charles Laughton as the two big names. Both actors are actually a bit disappointing. As Leffingwell, Fonda is in full wise man mode and as such, comes across as a bit of a bore. As a Southern Senator, Laughton goes overboard and his fake accent is overdone even by the standards of most fake Southern accents. However, the lesser stars in the cast all turn in finely tuned performances -- even if it is a little bit jarring to see Betty White sitting in the U.S. Senate. Already in decline, former leading man Franchot Tone is almost painfully believable as the dying President while Lew Ayres makes the perfect likeable but lightweight Vice President. Walter Pidgeon, as the Senate majority leader, conveys the man's overall benevolence while still remaining a credible power player. As womanizer Lafe Smith, Peter Lawford at times seems to be channelling more of his famous brother-in-law than '60s audiences would have liked to admit while Burgess Meredith is both pathetic and heart-rendering as an unstable former communist who accuses Leffingwell of being a subversive. Its impossible, for me at least, to read Drury's novel without picturing Don Murray as tormented Brig Anderson, so powerfully does Murray inhabit the role. However, the best performance goes to one of the more unsung members of the cast. As Sen. Fred Van Ackerman, character actor George Grizzard perfectly embodies the man's evil blandness and creates a character who is actually much more menacing the more hysterical portrait presented by Drury in his original novel and its sequels.
In short, this is not a perfect film. However, despite its flaws, it should still hold a lot of interest for political junkies or anyone who wants a chance to see some unheralded actors give some really outstanding ensemble performances.
ADVISE AND CONSENT, the 1962 movie based on Allan Drury's sprawling novel, is a long movie but surprisingly nimble, yet at times shocking. The central issue is how the sitting President (Franchot Tone) can get his hand-picked appointee (Henry Fonda) confirmed as Secretary of State despite the latter's allegedly leftist connections. Among all the maneuvering, some disturbing facts emerge: as the Capitol dome on the movie's poster/DVD suggests, this is Washington "with the lid off." With Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Gene Tierney, George Grizzard, Betty White, Charles Laughton, Lew Ayres and many others. Director Otto Preminger, no stranger to pushing the envelope, included in this movie the first scene inside a gay bar in American commercial cinema. Well worth seeing. Allow enough time; the movie runs two hours, 19 mins.
With the election of John F. Kennedy, in 1960, Hollywood took a heightened interest in politics, and the behind-the-scenes drama of lawmaking. Allen Drury's massive novel of wheeling and dealing, "Advise and Consent", was a natural choice for the big screen, and under the sure direction of legendary Otto Preminger, a classic 'political thriller' was born.
The premise, the nomination of a controversial new Secretary of State, and the actions of the President and Congress to help or hinder his approval, is still a remarkably timely issue, over forty years later, and it is surprising how little things have actually changed. With Henry Fonda as the nominee, you'd expect that he'd be the 'good guy' of the tale, but when he lies under oath (even with the best of reasons), Preminger makes it clear that in politics, as in life, there is little that can easily be divided into 'black' and 'white'.
Certainly, there are recognizable historic figures in the cast, under different names. The most obvious is skirt-chasing Sen. Lafe Smith, a thinly-disguised JFK, himself, who cut quite a social path prior to marrying Jackie (and afterward, too, as the years have revealed). That his real-life brother-in-law, Peter Lawford, plays the role, is a grand piece of 'tongue-in-cheek' casting (as is Gene Tierney, one of Kennedy's early 'conquests', as a Washington social maven). One character has become even more fascinating, since the film's release; wily South Carolina Sen. Seabright Cooley (a brilliant Charles Laughton, in his final role), was said to have been based on Illinois' legendary Everett Dirksen, but in a real-life parallel, South Carolina produced a 'real' Seab Cooley, in the amazing Strom Thurmond!
The 'Who-Is-Who?' aspect aside, the film is populated with many fascinating characters, from wise and sympathetic Senate Majority Leader Robert Munson (Walter Pidgeon, in one of his finest later roles), and his 'right-hand man', Senate Majority Whip Stanley Danta (Paul Ford, also wonderful), to the Minority opposition, headed by the perfectly-cast Will Geer. Women, who were finally achieving greater political status, aren't as well-conceived in the film, but are present, with Betty White(!) in a small but visible role.
The key 'players' of the drama, however, are the wily, dying President (screen veteran Franchot Tone, in a terrific 'comeback' role), the enigmatic Vice President (Lew Ayres, another screen legend making a 'comeback'), young, idealistic Sen. Brigham Anderson (Don Murray, who nearly steals the film in his tragic portrayal), and opportunistic Sen. Fred Van Ackerman (George Grizzard, as easily the film's most hiss-able villain!)
As with all Preminger films, there is an element of controversy in the story, with homosexuality as the issue addressed. While later film historians have complained that the director fell back into an almost caricatured approach to the gay lifestyle, considering the era the film was produced, and the censorship restrictions of the time, to even mention it was a courageous move, and that Preminger kept this key plot element in the story should be applauded.
"Advise and Consent" may not be the kind of film that will appeal to everyone, but each time I hear Jerry Fielding's stirring opening theme, I find myself drawn back into this ever-fascinating world of Politics and Power, and I think, if you give it a chance, you'll be hooked by it, too!
This one is a keeper!