Advise & Consent

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For the novel, see Advise and Consent.
Advise & Consent
Advise-&-Consent-(1).jpg
Theatrical release poster by Saul Bass
Directed by Otto Preminger
Produced by Otto Preminger
Screenplay by Wendell Mayes
Based on Advise and Consent
by Allen Drury
Starring Henry Fonda
Charles Laughton
Don Murray
Walter Pidgeon
Peter Lawford
Gene Tierney
Paul Ford
George Grizzard
Music by Jerry Fielding
Cinematography Sam Leavitt
Edited by Louis R. Loeffler
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • June 6, 1962 (1962-06-06)
Running time
139 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Advise & Consent is a 1962 American neo noir motion picture based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Allen Drury, published in 1959.[1]

The movie was adapted for the screen by Wendell Mayes and was directed by Otto Preminger. The ensemble cast features Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Gene Tierney, Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres, Burgess Meredith, Eddie Hodges, Paul Ford, George Grizzard, Inga Swenson, Betty White and others.[2]

The title derives from the United States Constitution's Article II, Sec. 2, cl. 2, which provides that the President of the United States "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States". The film, set in Washington, D.C., follows the consequences of a Presidential nomination for Secretary of State of a man with a hidden past who commits perjury in the course of confirmation proceedings.

Plot summary[edit]

The President of the United States (Franchot Tone) nominates Robert A. Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) as Secretary of State. The second-term President, who unbeknownst to the public is ill, has chosen Leffingwell because he does not believe that Vice President Harley Hudson (Lew Ayres)—someone he and others generally tolerate or ignore—could successfully continue the administration's foreign policy should he die.

Leffingwell's nomination is controversial within the United States Senate which, using its advice and consent powers, must either approve or reject the appointment. Both the President's party, the majority, and the minority are divided. Majority Leader Bob Munson (Walter Pidgeon), the senior senator from Michigan, loyally supports the nominee despite his doubts, as do the hard-working Majority Whip Stanley Danta (Paul Ford) of Connecticut and womanizer Lafe Smith (Peter Lawford) of Rhode Island. Demagogic peace advocate Fred Van Ackerman (George Grizzard) of Wyoming is especially supportive. Although also of the majority party, President pro tempore and "curmudgeon" Seabright "Seeb" Cooley (Charles Laughton) of South Carolina dislikes Leffingwell for both personal and professional reasons, and leads the opposition. The divided opinion of the nominee spills over even into the social setting of a party thrown by Washington society hostess Dolly Harrison (Gene Tierney). In private, the Vice President tells the majority leader that someone should at least inform him if it is true that the President is seriously ill.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee appoints a subcommittee, chaired by majority member Brigham Anderson (Don Murray) of Utah, to evaluate the nominee. The young and devoted family man is undecided on Leffingwell. Cooley dramatically introduces a surprise witness, Herbert Gelman (Burgess Meredith). The minor Treasury clerk testifies that he was briefly in a Communist cell with Leffingwell and two others at the University of Chicago, and Gelman had been one of Leffingwell's students. The committee gives Leffingwell the right to cross-examine Gelman, and Leffingwell does not immediately deny the charge. Van Ackerman is livid over the committee's treatment of Leffingwell.

During a break in proceedings, Leffingwell meets with a friend, Treasury official Hardiman Fletcher (Paul McGrath), and it becomes apparent that both were members of the cell. Leffingwell indicates that revealing the truth might be his only option, a move that will reveal that both were briefly communists. Fletcher begs him not to, reminding him that Gelman's testimony was also tainted by his perjury. When the proceedings reconvene, Leffingwell presents evidence that Gelman had spent time in a sanitarium after a breakdown, and that when Gelman's job performance failed to improve on his return to work, Leffingwell helped him get a job at a different government agency. Gelman's credibility is further damaged by evidence that Gelman had never taken any of Leffingwell's classes, and that the location Gelman cited as a communist cell proves to have been a Chicago firehouse.

Though apparently prevailing over Gelman and also Cooley, Leffingwell confesses to the President that he had committed perjury and that Gelman was essentially correct. He asks that his nomination be withdrawn, but the President refuses. Cooley, meanwhile, finds out the truth about Fletcher and forces him to confess to Anderson, who informs Munson. Despite personal lobbying by the President, the subcommittee chairman insists that the White House withdraw the nomination due to Leffingwell's perjury or he will subpoena Fletcher to testify. The President angrily refuses but the majority leader admits that the White House will soon have to nominate another candidate. Anderson delays his committee's report on Leffingwell for one more day, but the President sends Fletcher out of the country, angering the senator.

While the sub-committee stalls a decision on Leffingwell, an overzealous Van Ackerman criticizes and then threatens Anderson in the Senate Chamber. Outside of the Senate chambers, Anderson begins receiving anonymous phone calls from Van Ackerman's men warning that, unless the subcommittee reports favorably on Leffingwell, information about what happened with "Ray" in Hawaii will appear. A worried Anderson flies to New York to confront a fellow Army veteran, Ray Shaff, finding him inside a men-only bar. Shaff admits that he sold evidence of a past homosexual relationship between the two. Hudson, Smith, and others attempt to counsel the troubled chairman, whose wife (Inga Swenson) knows something is dreadfully wrong, receiving more menacing phone calls, then ultimately a blackmail letter. Unable to reconcile his duty and his secret, Anderson commits suicide, his body discovered in his office. Munson, Smith and Cooley are at Harrison's house playing poker when they receive the news.

Suspicion in Anderson's death falls at first on Leffingwell's loudest supporter, Van Ackerman, and even extends to the President, who vehemently denies to Munson and Hudson knowing about the blackmail. He confirms the majority leader's hunch that he is dying and that Leffingwell's confirmation is vital because he knows that Hudson, a former Delaware governor with no foreign-policy experience, won't be able to run the presidency effectively. Munson criticizes Cooley for opposing the nominee but not exposing Fletcher, forcing Anderson to bear the pressure alone. Cooley offers to surrender all senate votes previously pledged to him if Munson will do likewise, but Munson is in no mood for more underhanded deals.

Anderson's opposition no longer a factor, the subcommittee and the Foreign Relations Committee proceed with the nomination. Both report favorably to the full Senate. In the Senate Chamber Cooley, to the shock of Munson and other colleagues, apologizes for his "vindictiveness." While he will vote against Leffingwell and his "alien voice," the senator will not ask others to follow. Munson, moved by Cooley's action, cites the "tragic circumstances" surrounding the confirmation. Although the majority leader will vote for Leffingwell, he will permit a conscience vote from others. Hudson's quorum call and the majority leader's refusal to yield the floor prevent Van Ackerman from speaking until Munson asks for the "Yeas and Nays", ending debate. The majority leader tells the senator that were it not for the Andersons' privacy the Senate would censure and expel him. Van Ackerman angrily leaves the chamber before the vote.

Munson's side is slightly ahead until Smith unexpectedly votes against Leffingwell, and the majority leader prepares for the Vice President to break the tie in the nominee's favor. Secret Service agents enter the chamber and Hudson receives a message from the Senate Chaplain. He announces that he will not break the tie, causing the nomination to fail, and that the President has died during the vote. As he leaves with the Secret Service, Hudson tells Munson that he wants to choose his own Secretary of State. Senator Cooley as President pro tempore assumes the chair, Munson makes a motion to adjourn "sine die" due to the former president's death.

Cast[edit]

Note

  • Appearing in two scenes as Senator McCafferty — who, whenever awakened from a deep sleep, automatically responds "Opposed, sir! Opposed!" — was the 87-year-old Henry F. Ashurst, one of the first senators elected by Arizona, serving five terms. Ashurst died on May 31, 1962, a week before the film's premiere.

Production[edit]

Secretary of State nominee Robert A. Leffingwell (Fonda) appears before the Senate Committee.

Many scenes were filmed at real locations in Washington D.C., including the Capitol, the canteen of the Treasury Building, the Washington Monument and the Crystal Room of the Sheraton Carlton Hotel.[3]

Preminger offered Martin Luther King Jr. a cameo role as a U.S. Senator from Georgia,[4] although there were no serving African-American Senators at the time. King reportedly gave the offer serious consideration but eventually turned it down, feeling that it might cause hostility and hurt the civil rights movement.[5]

Former Vice President Richard Nixon was offered the role of the Vice President, but refused and pointed out some "glaring and obvious" errors in the script, presumably including the critical fact that under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the Vice President automatically assumes the office of the president upon the president's death; in Advise & Consent, the new president is no longer president of the Senate, and therefore has no power to cast a tie-breaking vote. [6]

Advise & Consent was one of a sequence of Preminger films that challenged both the Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and the Hollywood blacklist. It pushed censorship boundaries with its depiction of a married senator who is being blackmailed over a wartime homosexual affair, and was the first mainstream American movie after World War II to show a gay bar.[4] Preminger confronted the blacklist by casting left-wing actors Will Geer[7] and Burgess Meredith.[8] It was the first of five films in which Preminger cast Meredith.

It also marked the screen comeback of Gene Tierney, whose breakthrough to major stardom came in Preminger's 1944 film Laura. Tierney had withdrawn from acting for several years because of her ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder. Advise & Consent was the last of four films she made for Preminger and one of her last major film roles.

Actress Betty White (best known for her later roles in the sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls), made her film debut in Advise & Consent, appearing in one scene as a young senator from Kansas.[9]

Henry Fonda's character Leffingwell was seen as drawing particularly on real-life State Department official (and Soviet spy) Alger Hiss.[10][11][12]

It was Charles Laughton's last film; he was suffering from cancer during filming, and died six months after the film's release.

Meredith's character draws on real-life Soviet spy (and, later, apostate Communist) Whittaker Chambers.

Peter Lawford was John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law when the story was filmed. He plays Lafe Smith, identified as a senator from Rhode Island (and modeled on Kennedy), although in Drury's book the character represents Iowa.

It should be noted that the Vice President was riding on a civilian airliner returning from New York City with the stricken senator from Utah. It was not the custom at the time for the Vice President to have a special plane as he does today.

Critical reception[edit]

The staff of Variety liked the acting but believed the screenplay was problematic. They wrote, "As interpreted by producer-director Otto Preminger and scripter Wendell Mayes, Advise and Consent is intermittently well dialogued and too talky, and, strangely, arrested in its development and illogical… Preminger has endowed his production with wholly capable performers… The characterizations come through with fine clarity."[13]

The film critic for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther, did not like the contrived storyline of the script, and he wrote, "Without even giving the appearance of trying to be accurate and fair about the existence of a reasonable balance of good men and rogues in government, Mr. Preminger and Wendell Mayes, his writer, taking their cue from Mr. Drury's book, have loaded their drama with rascals to show the types in Washington." Crowther also was bothered by the use of the "homosexual affair." He wrote, "It is in this latter complication that the nature of the drama is finally exposed for the deliberately scandalous, sensational and caustic thing it is. Mr. Preminger has his character go through a lurid and seamy encounter with his old friend before cutting his throat, an act that seems unrealistic, except as a splashy high point for the film."[14]

Awards[edit]

Wins

Nominations

References[edit]

  1. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; June 9, 1962, page 86.
  2. ^ Advise and Consent at the Internet Movie Database.
  3. ^ IMDb - Advise and Consent - Locations
  4. ^ a b Holm, D.K. Advise and Consent Review. The DVD Journal 2005
  5. ^ IMDb - Advise and Consent - Trivia
  6. ^ Alan Schroeder, Celebrity-in-Chief", p. 293
  7. ^ IMDb - Will Geer - Biography
  8. ^ Burgess Meredith web site. Last accessed: November 29, 2009.
  9. ^ Betty White at the Internet Movie Database.
  10. ^ Rich, Frank (15 May 2005). "Just How Gay Is the Right?". New York Times. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  11. ^ Kaplan, Roger (1 October 1999). "Allen Drury and the Washington Novel". Hoover Institution. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  12. ^ Ringle, Ken (4 September 1998). "Allen Drury, Father Of the D.C. Drama". Washington Post. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  13. ^ Advise and Consent Review. Variety June 1962.
  14. ^ Crowther, Bosley. Advise and Consent (1962) Review. The New York Times June 7, 1962.
  15. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Advise and Consent". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

External links[edit]