22 November 2005 | Snow Leopard
A Good Job With Some Challenging Material
The complex story, numerous characters, and sensitive themes would seem to make Allen Drury's "Advise & Consent" a challenging story to film. This is a good adaptation that succeeds in most respects, and it gets about as much out of the material as you could hope for in a couple of hours or so worth of screen time. Otto Preminger seems to have had a good appreciation for the dramatic possibilities, and the fine cast brings the main characters to life believably.
The movie version (more so than the novel) is as much or more about the practicalities of politics than it is about ideology. Some of the political issues themselves were hotly debated topics in the movie's own era, and a couple of them are still topical now, but even they are often secondary to the harsh and often unseemly realities of political power. All of the major characters have their flaws and make mistakes, yet all but a couple of them have some worthwhile characteristics. On its best level, the story is not about winning and losing so much as it is about the ways that political battles affect individual lives and personal character.
There are numerous good performances and some fine casting. Charles Laughton personifies the old-time Senator Cooley, Walter Pigeon (the spell-checker refuses to accept it spelled properly) could not have been better chosen as the Majority Leader, and Henry Fonda is perfect in a challenging role that calls for him to maintain a difficult balance. Even most of the supporting roles are filled well by fine actors like Lew Ayres, Franchot Tone, and Burgess Meredith (who uses his brief screen time very effectively, in a role that must have been quite ironic for him personally).
Naturally, some of the characters and events from the novel had to be omitted or streamlined, but there is still plenty of meat left, even once you discount the Cold War era ideological issues. The personal lives and personal agendas of the characters, the tension between their lives as individuals and their responsibilities as public servants, and the contrast between what they do and what the public sees, all give the movie some extra depth that makes it worthwhile and that gives it meaning that goes well beyond the political issues on the surface.