Advise and Consent A-
A poignant, often brutal expose of the American political system, Otto Preminger's “Advise and Consent” features outstanding performances from a large ensemble cast that includes established stars (Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Gene Tierney), character actors (Walter Pidgeon), and newcomers (Don Murray).
Wendell Mayes' script is based on Allen Drury's best-selling, Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, which read like “Who's Who in Washington,” sort of a hit-and-run foray among the political movers and shakers of the 1940s and 1950s. In many ways, by offering a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of political machinations and Washington intrigues, “Advise and Consent” set the trend of future exposes, such as “Fail Safe” (1964), directed by Sidney Lumet and also starring Henry Fonda.
The tantalizing tale centers on Robert Leffingwell (Fonda), who has been appointed Secretary of State, and the long, arduous political process of confirming his appointment by the Senate.
Senator Bob Munson (Walter Pidgeon) and his cohorts are trying to push the appointment through, past opposition from vet politicians like Senator Seabright “Seb” Cooley (Charles Laughton), a crusty old man.
Young Senator Brigham Anderson (Don Murray), a freshman whose vote in support of the nomination is crucial, will not commit to his party leader Munson. This leads Senator Fred Van Ackerman (George Grizzard), a ruthless, power-hungry colleague, to attempt to blackmail Anderson into siding with his voting block. To that goal, he threatens to expose Anderson's former homosexual activities, unless he votes “the right way,” which leads to some unexpected results.
In this all-star cast, Laughton shines in a splashy role, but Franchot Tone, as the President, and Lew Ayres, as the V.P., give equally impressive if more subtle performances.
Though Henry Fonda received star-billing, his part, as a shadowy and controversial politico, was cut in the editing room. Preminger claimed it was a necessity of the large number of characters, events, and subplots. As it is, the film's running time, 140 minutes, is longer than was the norm. Even so, Fonda's role calls attention to his more established screen image, as a noble and dignified all-American hero. In the 1960s and 1970s, Fonda played more villainous and morally ambiguous characters.
At the time, some critics felt that Preminger sensationalizes American politics, though the helmer's approach was more precise and cautious than the usual. “Advise and Consent was released in 1962, a year before the John F. Kennedy Assassination, a traumatic event that would forever change American politicsand our perception of it.
“Advise and Consent” was more incisive and realistic than, say, Frank Capra's political fable, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” a film that's been admired since its release, in 1939. Significantly, both features proved to be unpopular with their role models, who refused to comment on them.
related article 1: Henry Fonda's Western Screen Image.
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