11 September 2008 | blanche-2
One of the great political films of all time
An ill President wants his nominee for Secretary of State confirmed in "Advise and Consent," a 1962 film based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alan Drury and directed by Otto Preminger. It was the first film in seven years for Gene Tierney and the last for Charles Laughton. Tierney couldn't have chosen a better comeback and Laughton a more fitting farewell.
It's up to the majority leader, Bob Munson (Walter Pidgeon) to get the President's (Franchot Tone) nominee for Secretary of State (Henry Fonda) confirmed, but it's not going to be easy. Senator Cooley from South Carolina (Laughton) believes that Robert Leffingwell once had Communist ties and doesn't want him confirmed, even if it means digging up marginal people (Burgess Meredith) who claim to have known Comrade Leffingwell. An ambitious, aggressive young senator (George Grizzard) loudly wants Leffingwell approved, and he will do anything to make it happen - even if it means blackmailing the chairman of the hearing, Brig Anderson (Don Murray). There is pressure on the President to withdraw Leffingwell, and he refuses; the President puts pressure on Anderson to get him confirmed, and, sticking to his own principles, Brig, despite a tremendous threat to his home and political position, refuses to reconvene the hearing. Meanwhile, if Leffingwell stays in and there's a tie, it will be up to the Vice President (Lew Ayres) as the President of the Senate, to break it.
This is a brilliantly done film that has you glued from the first moment to the last. It not only gives a vivid portrait of politics and how the Senate works but keeps the viewer in suspense for the entire movie. The acting is magnificent. Franchot Tone gives a sturdy performance as a President running out of time; Lew Ayres underplays and makes sympathetic the role of the compromise Vice President; Walter Pidgeon is elegant and authoritative as the majority leader; Henry Fonda gives a straightforward, honest portrayal of a man who wants to serve his country but has to go against some of his own beliefs in order to do it. There isn't a wrong note throughout, even down to a very young and pretty Betty White who has a tiny role as a Senator and Peter Lawford as a Jack Kennedy type. Inga Swenson is the insecure Mrs. Anderson and gives a heartbreaking performance as a loving wife who feels she has failed her husband in some fundamental way. Laughton is great, but he is given some very florid dialogue, and he rises to the occasion by hamming it up. It was an appropriate choice given the script. Gene Tierney, as a wealthy widow/hostess who sees Pidgeon on the side, looks beautiful and gives a charming performance.
The end of this movie is incredibly powerful, and the scene with the President, Vice President and Senate Majority leader Munson is one of my favorites for a special reason. In the book, the Vice President, who is terribly worried about the President's health, has an encounter with the President and then goes back to his office and expresses some emotion about the meeting. Though the scene isn't in the film, Lew Ayres obviously read the book and has the same emotional reaction, but unspoken, on the Destroyer. Unless you've read the book, you won't pick it up, but it's an even greater scene if you have.
IMDb members have posted that nothing has changed today. In politics, I'm sure that is true. In films, unfortunately, things have changed. A character-driven film rich in dialogue like "Advise and Consent" is hard to come by. See it and revel in the film-making past and shake your head at the timeliness of the story.