Advice and Consent is the 1962 movie about a Senate confirmation hearing where sex, blackmail, and perjury become more important than the technical qualifications of the nominee. Henry Fonda stars as Robert Leffingwell, who has been nominated by the President (Franchot Tone) to be the Secretary of State. He is a controversial pick, and his nomination sets off a no-holds barred fight with both pro and con forces using every dirty trick possible.
At the time Advice and Consent was released, audiences thought it was an exciting but ridiculously “over the top” piece of fiction. In 1962, the American public still believed in the dignity and decency of its public officials. Of course, that was decades before the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.
Former Vice President Richard Nixon was offered the role of Vice President in Advice and Consent, but turned it down. Richard Nixon said Advice and Consent contained too many obvious errors about how the government actually functions.
However, Advise and Consent does have former Arizona Senator Henry F. Ashurst, who had served 30 years in the Senate. He was 87 years old when Advice and Consent was filmed. Ashurst plays an old Senator who sleeps through most of the proceedings, but who vehemently shouts “Opposed!” whenever something disturbs his slumber.
Advice and Consent shocked 1962 audiences by broaching the subject of homosexuality, and for the first time on the silver screen showing a gay bar. In Advice and Consent, one of the married Senators had a homosexual affair in college, and he is being blackmailed to pressure him to vote in the proper direction.
The casting in Advice and Consent was a deliberate snub at the McCarthy-era investigations. Many of the actors cast in Advice and Consent had been directly impacted by the Hollywood “black list”. It was also risky to cast Charles Laughton in a film that mentioned homosexuality. Charles Laughton was one of the few actors who were openly gay in 1962.
There have been few films that had such an all star cast as Advice and Consent. In addition to Henry Fonda, Advice and Consent features Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford and Betty White. A part was even offered to Martin Luther King Jr. He was to play an Ambassador, even though in 1962 The United States did not actually have any African-American Ambassadors. However, Martin Luther King Jr. felt that appearing in Advice and Consent would take focus away fro his civil rights work.
Advice and Consent is an excellent film and is fascinating to watch from today’s perspective. One interesting point is that in Advice and Consent, all the really dirty tactics, accusations and attacks take place out of view of the American public. Unlike today’s televised hearings, in Advice and Consent, the Senators were able to keep the really unsavory working of the government hidden from the general population. Perhaps this was better. As Prince Otto von Bismarck once said, “no one really wants to know how the sausage is made.”
- We rate Advice and Consent 5 Stars *****.
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