The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Advise and Consent

Recently in the news, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was found guilty on one count of 24 levied against him.  A mistrial is in the works, but the news was nothing new.  Controversies and scandals in politics are as old as well, politics itself.  Are we surprised anymore when a politician, whether it be the President or down through the ranks to Senators, Representatives, Governors, and on and on, does something stupid in the news?  Sex, past indiscretions, corruption, all over the above, nothing seems to faze the American public anymore.

Let's go back almost half a century in more innocent times, I guess, the 1960s weren't exactly innocent.  But the times were certainly different without that 24-hour news cycle that keeps viewers up to date on everything going on.  Politicians could have secrets and that's just what they were, secrets.  The master of adult-themed movies, Otto Preminger explored this concept with 1962's Advise and Consent. When you accept a position in the public eye, you lose your privacy to a certain point.  You open yourself up for criticism on many fronts, but if this Preminger movie teaches us anything, we all have secrets. It's only a matter of time before they're found out.

The President of the United States (Franchot Tone) has chosen a nominee for the vacant position of the Secretary of State. The man is Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) and from the get-go, the nomination divides the Senate who will have to approve or disapprove him. The Senate majority leader (Walter Pidgeon) is all for the choice and knows he can get the necessary number of votes for Leffingwell. Opposing him is a long-time senator from South Carolina (Charles Laughton), who was burned by Leffingwell in the past and still holds a grudge. But before a vote can be counted, the nomination must go through a Senate sub-committee headed by an idealistic young senator (Don Murray) who will decide if Leffingwell is capable of doing the job. But as the committee starts, the dirt comes out and the fight begins.

As he did so often with his movies, Preminger puts together a very impressive ensemble cast to work with.  It's so good from top to bottom that Fonda -- yes, Henry Fonda -- is almost an afterthought as a supporting character.  He doesn't even make an appearance in the last 30 minutes.  Preminger was a perfectionist as a filmmaker, but actors must have liked working with him.  Along with the names mentioned above, there is also Gene Tierney, Peter Lawford, Will Geer, Burgess Meredith, Lew Ayres, and Paul Ford among others. Like any large ensemble, some in the cast get more of a chance to shine than others, but none disappoint however long they're on screen.  Murray, Pidgeon and Laughton are the ones that shine brightest though, including Ayres as a vanilla vice president.

This isn't a movie about camera techniques or in your face effects.  Preminger lets takes and scenes go on uninterrupted without the slightest editing.  Characters hold conversations like they would in real life.  He lets his cast show off their ability, letting the dialogue do all the talking the story needs.  At times, the pace can be infuriatingly slow (it is 140 minutes long) because of that, especially toward the end when the pace should be picking up, but it's all part of the story the movie revels in.  Preminger filmed in countless locations in Washington DC -- shooting in black and white -- giving a real feel for all the backroom deals and shady motives that really go on in the capital.  It doesn't intentionally call attention to itself, but the movie is a treat to watch on a purely visual level.

What was somewhat disappointing as the story develops is that by 2010, nothing really surprised me in terms of government scandals and controversies.  In the last 10 or 20 years, there has been murder, extramarital affairs, corruption, prostitution, kidnappings, and any number of other things I'm probably forgetting.  So when the scandals do pop up, including Fonda's Leffingwell and his past involvement in a different government and Murray's Senator's past coming back to haunt him, they don't have a huge affect on the viewer.  Shocking in 1962, maybe, but not in 2010.  Through no fault of Preminger's then (you can't blame him for making a move when he did), the emotional impact is lessened then just by time and how the world has changed in the almost 50 years since.

As everything does unravel in the end and the twists and secrets come out, the story thankfully picks up some steam.  One twist at the very end was a little too coincidental for me personally, the timing just too perfect, but that's movies for you. It is a movie that is as professionally done as just about any other movie you'll come across, and the cast is hard to top.  If there was a way to watch this in 1962, maybe the impact would have been greater, but in 2010, it's still pretty good.

Advise and Consent <---IMDB trailer (1962): ***/****

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