Robert Leffingwell is the president's candidate for Secretary of State. Prior to his approval, he must first go through a Senate investigation to determine if he's qualified. Leading the Senate committee is idealistic Senator Brig Anderson, who soon finds himself unprepared for the political dirt that's revealed, including Leffingwell's past affiliations with a Communist organization. When Leffingwell testifies about his political leanings, he proves his innocence. Later, however, Anderson learns that he lied under oath and even asks the president to withdraw Leffingwell for consideration, especially after the young senator begins receiving blackmail threats about a skeleton in his own closet.
Henry Fonda ... Robert A. Leffingwell
Charles Laughton ... Senator Seabright Cooley
Don Murray ... Senator Brigham Anderson
Walter Pidgeon ... Senate Majority Leader
Peter Lawford ... Senator Lafe Smith
Gene Tierney ... Dolly Harrison
Franchot Tone ... The President
Lew Ayres ... Vice President Harley Hudson
Burgess Meredith ... Herbert Gelman
Eddie Hodges ... Johnny Leffingwell
Paul Ford ... Senator Stanley Danta
George Grizzard ... Senator Fred Van Ackerman
Inga Swenson ... Ellen Anderson
Frank Sinatra ... Himself, Club 602 Singer on Jukebox (voice)
Edward Andrews ... Senator Orrin Knox
The greatest film on Washington politics - bar none. It is Capra-gone-sour: even noble Henry Fonda's character seems a little suspect and murky and an alternate title for this could have been Shades of Grey.
Everyone who likes this film will have their own choice of who steals the picture. For me its 'master-scene-thief' Charles Laughton with a thoroughly delicious Carolina Low Country accent you could ladle over grits and a rumpled white suit to match his rumpled white hair.
Get a load of Gene Tierney in early Bill Blass clothes, a New York pre-Stonewall gay bar, and Peter Lawford doing a take-off on his brother in law JFK. Clothes, sets, attitudes and general style are definitely different and fresh, not what people were used to - it doesn't 'feel like the fifties anymore. A revolution in lifestyles, sexuality and politics is just around the corner.
Preminger loved the innate theatricality of the courtroom (as in Anatomy of a Murder) or the halls of congress. Even the buildings and monuments themselves play a role in the film.
Coincidentally, I just finished watching Paul Ford's wonderfully comic 'super-patriot' in the film 'The Russians Are Coming' and then saw him here - understated, shrewd flawless acting. He is a face so familiar to me I feel like he's an uncle of mine. Edward Andrews also. These familiar and loved 'second tier' actors are the pros that gave Hollywood films their rich and satisfying texture.
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.
Preminger's masterpiece and one of the greatest of all American films and yet critical opinion is strongly divided on this one. Some people believe that the melodramatic elements of the plot, (homosexuality, blackmail, suicide), denigrates the film's authenticity and takes away from it as drama but the characters are so beautifully drawn, (and the performances of such a uniformly high standard), that the mechanics of the plot seem startlingly real. By being overt about homosexuality in 1962 the film broke new ground, though the gay characters, briefly seen, are cringe-worthy stereotypes.
What makes the film a masterpiece is Preminger's extraordinary mise-en-scene and possibly the best use of the widescreen for dramatic effect in any American movie. By keeping some characters on the periphery of the screen while the main characters in the scene interact in the foreground Preminger creates tensions and psychological relationships between them that cutting would only dissipate.
The plot centres on a dying President's controversial nomination of a left-wing Secretary of State. On the one hand, there are consequential melodramas inherent in pushing the plot forward, (the President's nomination is opposed; the politicians play dirty), while on the other is the almost documentary-like approach Preminger applies to the political machinations that take place on the floor of the senate and in the offices, houses and hotel-rooms where the characters live and work.
It is also the most entertaining of all political movies. (filmed luminously in black-and-white by Sam Leavitt it feels like a cracking film noir). The cast are matchless and many of them did their finest work here. This is particularly true of Walter Pigeon as the Majority Leader, (he's as decent and as noble as Ghandi), Franchot Tone as the President, Don Murray as the senator who is being blackmailed, (he was never to get a better part), Lew Ayres as the invisible Vice-President and Burgess Meredith as the mentally unstable witness, (it's a great cameo). Charles Laughton, too, gave a career-defining performance as the wily old senator whose opposition is the source of everyone's troubles, (it was his last film).
George Grizzard's character and performance is a mistake. He's the villain of the piece and he's demonic; he goes around spitting fire but he's a necessary evil. And the ending doesn't ring true; it's too convenient, a cop-out even if we are on the edge of our seat. But these are minor quibbles when everything else is so extraordinarily good. The script, by Wendell Mayes, is one of the great adaptations of a book, (even if it does reduce the roles of some characters and leaves out the back-fill). Amazingly, this great film wasn't nominated for a single Oscar. It rose above the brouhaha of the Academy.
* Director Otto Preminger offered the role of a southern senator to Martin Luther King Jr., believing that the casting could have a positive impact (despite the fact that there were no black senators at the time). Martin Luther King Jr. declined after serious consideration, as he felt playing the role could cause hostility and hurt the civil rights movement.
* The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Allen Drury, who was a congressional correspondent for The New York Times during the 1950s, while he was writing the book. Nearly every character is based on a real person (Lafe Smith is based on John F. Kennedy; Orrin Knox is based on Robert A. Taft, Fred Van Ackerman is based on Joseph McCarthy and the president is modeled on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Even the blackmailing on Brig Anderson, and how it's resolved, is based on a real incident. And the Leffingwell nomination is based on the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of Alger Hiss.
* Although the character of The President (played by 'Franchot Tone' ) carries no role name, at one point in the script, Munson (played by Walter Pidgeon), calls him "Russ".
* The man who is seen turning down a drink from a passing waiter is then-U.S. Senator and future Democratic presidential candidate Henry Jackson, (Henry "Scoop" Jackson) who appears uncredited. At a special private preview of the film for members of Congress, the sight of Henry Jackson refusing a drink drew gales of laughter from his colleagues.
* Burgess Meredith, as Herbert Gelman, testifies against Leffingwell at the latter's confirmation hearing, claiming that the two of them were members of a communist cell. In real life, Burgess Meredith was himself named an unfriendly witness by the House Un-American Activities Committee, which nearly ruined his acting career.