Warner Home Video presents
Advise and Consent (1962)
"Well, maybe there's nothing in your young life you'd like to conceal, but we're not all of us that fortunate. We have to make the best of our mistakes."- The President (Franchot Tone)
Stars: Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Gene Tierney, Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres, Burgess Meredith
Other Stars: Eddie Hodges, Paul Ford, George Grizzard, Inga Swenson, Will Geer, Betty White
Director: Otto Preminger
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult sexual themes)
Run Time: 02h:17m:54s
Release Date: 2005-05-10
DVD ReviewWith so much vitriol and partisan rhetoric currently swirling about President Bush's nomination of John Bolton to the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the 1962 political drama Advise and Consent suddenly seems quite topical. True, congressional wrangling never wanders far from the front page, but Otto Preminger's engrossing, all-star drama of polarized insiders battling over a Secretary of State nominee recalls any number of controversial presidential appointments from our recent pastóClarence Thomas, Zoe Baird, John Ashcroft, the list goes on. The average layman can only dream of witnessing the backroom deal-making and machiavellian maneuverings that often make or break such nominations, but Advise and Consent gives us a tantalizing taste of what transpires inside the Beltway and behind the Capitol's closed doors, as it proves how Washington attitudes and ideals have scarcely changed over the past half-century.
Novelist Allen Drury (on whose Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller the film is based) lends the proceedings a fictional flourish, but as a former congressional correspondent for The New York Times, he often chronicled the hearings and strategy sessions he depicts. Such experience lends Advise and Consent a wholly authentic feel, despite the parade of stars—led by Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, and Walter Pidgeon—who continually march through the film. Drury also bases many of his characters on real-life political figures, such as John F. Kennedy, Joseph McCarthy, and FDR, but keeps the parallels tastefully veiled, so they don't detract from the story at hand.
Chockablock with conflict and quiet tension, Advise and Consent details the firestorm of controversy the president (Franchot Tone) ignites when he taps Robert Leffingwell (Fonda) to lead the State Department—an act that sends both sides of the aisle into an intense lobbying frenzy. Senate Majority Leader Robert Munson (Pidgeon) doesn't approve of Leffingwell's politics, but nonetheless pledges his support, and corrals the impressionable junior senator from Utah, Brigham Anderson (Murray), to head the Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearings. Wily southern senator Seabright Cooley (Laughton in his final screen portrayal) leads the opposition and fuels rumors of Leffingwell's past communist associations. Yet despite damning testimony from former associate Herbert Gelman (Burgess Meredith), Leffingwell denies the charges. He can't, however, escape suspicion, and as the mudslinging intensifies, safely hidden skeletons come crashing out of almost everyone's closet, with devastating consequences.
Although one might assume the top-billed Fonda carries the picture, the actor only appears in a few key scenes, and his character's duplicitous nature deliciously skewers the actor's upstanding image. By casting Fonda as the divisive Leffingwell, Preminger seems to intimate that Washington has no heroes, only tarnished survivors, and those who can't handle the political heat need to flee the kitchen ASAP. Laughton chews the scenery with relish, but rarely goes overboard, and his riveting portrayal provides the legendary actor with a fitting swansong. Pidgeon anchors the film with his customary professionalism, but it's Murray's earnest performance that resonates, and makes one wish Hollywood could have better utilized this fine actor. Gene Tierney (as a high society hostess) raises a few eyebrows by matter-of-factly uttering the word "bitch," and astute TV fans will notice Will Geer and Betty White (in her feature film debut) in small roles.
Paris may have more glamour, but for intrigue, few settings can top Washington, and Preminger subtly maximizes the city's dark elements. In the days long before C-SPAN, the director infuses Advise and Consent with a you-are-there atmosphere that remains surprisingly fresh, despite the accessible nature of contemporary government. The all-star cast adds a touch of gloss, but never outshines the gritty elements of Drury's finely textured plot, which makes Advise and Consent as appetizing as a congressional power lunch.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Sam Leavitt's black-and-white cinematography nicely mirrors the Washington backdrop, remaining antiseptically cold and stark throughout. As a result, the grayscale on this widescreen anamorphic transfer stays muted, but contrast and shadow detail are both excellent, and blacks possess an inky richness that adds dramatic impact to several key scenes. Print defects are kept to a minimum, with only a few faint speckles catching the eye, and sharpness is first rate across the board.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The mono track possesses a surprising amount of fidelity for such a talky film, and the dynamics enhance the Washington atmosphere. Speeches on the Senate floor benefit from a robust resonance, while a few background songs (one of which is performed by Frank Sinatra) achieve a semblance of stereo. The plentiful dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and location scenes sound just as good as their interior counterparts.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian Drew Casper
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: In addition to the original theatrical trailer (which gives away far too many critical plot elements), an informative commentary track by film historian Drew Casper is the only supplement included. Casper is an unabashed Preminger enthusiast, who feels the director is "underappreciated" and "undervalued," and he spends the bulk of his commentary trying to right that wrong by providing what amounts to a film school seminar on Preminger's life, career, and cinematic style. He argues the director should most certainly be regarded as an auteur, and cites several trademark Preminger touches, such as the use of continuous time and space, tracking shots, and an affinity for screenplays with a social conscience. Preminger "didn't play it safe," Casper says, "he took chances," and became "the gadfly of American cinema." (Many of his films helped to weaken Hollywood censorship, and Advise and Consent, with its allusions to homosexuality, was no exception.) Casper also examines the considerable differences between Allen Drury's novel, a Broadway stage adaptation, and Preminger's film, and discusses the story's controversial elements. Unfortunately, Casper closes his commentary with a rather dry rundown of cast and crew career credits, but it's easy to understand how he might run out of steam after almost 140 minutes.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsAlthough some plot elements might seem dated, the political themes of Advise and Consent remain timeless. As long as there's a Washington, there'll be partisan bickering, dirty dealing, and mudslinging galore, and it all makes for great cinema. Fonda, Laughton, and company seem to relish the milieu, and Preminger keeps us engrossed throughout. Though extras are a bit slim, political junkies (and lovers of fine drama) will surely want to grab this "controversial classic." Recommended.
David Krauss 2005-07-08