Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You Otto See It: Advise & Consent (1962)

Otto Preminger's Advise & Consent (1962) wasn't necessarily an enjoyable film to watch. I found myself wondering what the heck was going on for the first 30-40 minutes only to get it, but not care until a good 80 minutes in. The story takes too long to get to the best story, the one of about Brigham "Brig" Anderson, the troubled Senator from Utah. A tighter focus on his story and having that thread be what binds the plot together would have made for a much more interesting and cohesive film. Controvery, something that Otto Preminger never shied away from, makes this film interesting today: corrupt politics, Gene Tierney saying the word "bitch" a few times and the famous scene at Club 602.

Even though I can't say this is one of my favorite films, I still think you "Otto" see it. Especially for the last 40 minutes which are amazing. The artwork promothing the film advertises this is a Henry Fonda movie. That is very misleading, since this film has a spectacular ensemble cast and although Fonda's character is very central to the plot, he's not given that much screen time. The wonderful cast includes Charles Laughton (awesome), Gene Tierney (still gorgeous), Franchot Tone (I call him "my oversized coat", I like him), Burgess Meredith (soft spot for him), Peter Lawford (Good News!), Don Murray (heart-throb), Lew Ayres (what a gentleman), Walter Pidgeon (he put up with Greer Garson), etc. The person to watch for is Charles Laughton, who plays the conniving North Carolina Senator with Southern charm. He's so fascinating to watch and they give him so many great lines.

At one point during the film, I nearly screamed when I heard the familiar voice of Betty White. Then when I saw the face to match the voice, I was ecstatic! Growing up watching the Golden Girls, I always really admired Betty White. It was superb to see her as the lone female Senator who stands up to the brash and outspoken Senator of Wyoming. Woot!

Update: After writing this piece, I found the movie grew on me. I think it at least deserves a second viewing! If you do watch it, don't give up on it!


  1. The book on which this film was based was published in 1959, spent over 100 weeks on various best-seller lists, and garnered critical praise for its author, Allen Drury. It started a cycle of "paranoid political thrillers" that lasted well into the 1960's.
    The story is pretty dense and rife with various sub-plots, but it's got great characters and a lot of energy. I share your enthusiasm for Laughton's performance as Senator Seab Cooley; that legendary actor died not long after finishing the film. I also liked George Grizzard as Fred Van Ackerman, the junior senator from Wyoming who blackmails Brig Anderson, and that wonderful character actor Edward Andrews, who played the acerbic Senator Orrin Knox. The film's grim depiction of homosexuality reflects the attitudes of the times. I first saw this movie many years ago with my grandfather. I recently found a paperback copy of the novel, a very long book, but one which I intend finally to read. Then I will watch the movie again, after Kevin's Preminger lecture at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in November.

  2. I need to see this movie again, too. There are so many characters to keep track of! Charles Laughton's performance is one of the best things in it. I guess he took great pains to make his Southern accent as authentic as possible.

    Anyway, I might be interested in reading the book one day. Apparently, it was read and endorsed by many politicians in its day, including John F. Kennedy.

    Speaking of JFK, I found out he and Gene Tierney were once an item before she became involved with Hollywood fashion designer Oleg Cassini! Cool, huh?

    The depiction of homosexuality may feel dated. In some ways, though, it isn't. A revelation like that can still, unfortunately, have a negative effect on a polician's career. Remember that incident with the Minnesota senator (?) a couple years ago?

  3. Bob & Kevin - Thanks so much for your comments.

    Bob - I definitely agree about George Gizzard. I very much enjoyed his performance. When it's a pleasure to be creeped out and to loathe a character, you know an actor is doing a good job.

    Kevin - Thank you! You are just reiterating one of my big points. Old movies can still speak to us today. They are still relevant.

    It's amazing how entwined JFK's life was with film. I read recently that he watched Roman Holiday in order to calm himself down during the Cuban Missile crisis.


  4. Kevin, sadly, you are correct that being "outed" can have devastating consequences - potentially for anyone, not just those in the public eye. At the time the film was released, gay men were routinely fired from so-called "sensitive" government positions simply because of their sexual orientation; the reasoning was that they supposedly could be blackmailed into disclosing top secret information. The film depicts homosexuality as it was seen back then - as a sickness, a sin, and an unspeakable aberration. Hollywood usually portrayed gay men as villains or predatory lunatics, so I suppose the generally sympathetic depiction of Brig Anderson's youthful "indiscretion" was a big step forward.

  5. Bob - I have to say, I don't agree with you. I don't think this film shows homosexuality as a sickness. I think it's being very forward thinking. Brig's public life (wife, daughter, conservative position in politics, representation of Utah - a very Mormon state) is in jeapordy. I think it shows homosexuality as something that is practiced at that time in secret. Exposure of Brig's relationship with a man, would have completely dismantled the public image he created. Just like that Minnesota senator that Kevin mentioned. Anyone who has created a public image, only to be living a very different life is subject to this.

  6. As a Jeopardy! fan, I'm embarassed at my initial attempt to spell it!

  7. Raquel,while I think the movie is sympathetic to Brig, I believe it offers a grim picture of homosexuality. The metaphor for this is the gay club - a dark, sordid place, located underground, below street level, away from the eyes of "respectable" people. Homosexuals must deny their sexuality and have clandestine liaisons because society views their sexual orientation as a sickness. I just can't regard this as "forward thinking." Brig's tragedy is that as a young man in the service he succumbed to this "sickness." He then "cured" himself by getting married and having kids, only to be destroyed by the threat of having this past "sickness" revealed. Brig isn't really gay; he just experimented. His past act was an anomaly, so he is portrayed favorably. If he were really gay, I shudder to think of how he would have been depicted. I suppose this film could be considered a bit more progressive than most released around that time, but in my opinion not much more so.

  8. I still don't agree. I put this alongside Children's Hour. This movie didn't show it as a "sickness" rather it showed his homosexuality (or dabbling in it, whichever) as something socially unacceptable and that could destroy his career. Which it definitely could and unfortunately today that could still happen. And I thought Club 602 was not what you described it as. I didn't feel like it showed them as perverts. Rather as people living their lives the only way they could at that time. Underground.

    I recommend you watch the documentary series Indie Sex. It shows how films over time broke down people's preconceptions of sexuality. People think of these old films as backwards, when they are really not.


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