The movie was adapted for the screen by Wendell Mayes and was directed by Otto Preminger. The ensemble cast features Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Gene Tierney, Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres, Burgess Meredith, Eddie Hodges, Paul Ford, George Grizzard, Inga Swenson, Betty White and others.
The title derives from the United States Constitution's Article II, Sec. 2, cl. 2, which provides that the President of the United States "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States". The film, set in Washington, D.C., follows the consequences of a Presidential nomination for Secretary of State of a man with a hidden past who commits perjury in the course of confirmation proceedings.
The President of the United States nominates Robert A. Leffingwell as Secretary of State. The second-term President, who is ill, has chosen him because he does not believe that Vice President Harley Hudson—whom both he and others usually ignore—will successfully continue the administration's foreign policy should he die.
Leffingwell's nomination is controversial within the United States Senate which, using its advice and consent powers, must either approve or reject the appointment. Both the President's party, the majority, and the minority are divided. Majority Leader Bob Munson, the senior senator from Michigan, loyally supports the nominee despite his doubts, as do the hard-working Majority Whip Stanley Danta of Connecticut and womanizer Lafe Smith of Rhode Island. Demagogic peace advocate Fred Van Ackerman of Wyoming is especially supportive. Although also of the majority party, President pro tempore and "curmudgeon" Seabright "Seab" Cooley of South Carolina dislikes Leffingwell for both personal and professional reasons, and leads the opposition.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee appoints a subcommittee, chaired by majority member Brigham Anderson of Utah, to evaluate the nominee. The young and devoted family man is undecided on Leffingwell. Cooley dramatically introduces a surprise witness, Herbert Gelman. The minor Treasury clerk testifies that he was briefly in a Communist cell with Leffingwell and two others at the University of Chicago. Leffingwell denies the charge and effectively questions Gelman's credibility, but later tells the President that he had committed perjury and that Gelman was essentially correct. He asks the President to withdraw his nomination, but he refuses.
Cooley identifies another member of the cell, senior Treasury official Hardiman Fletcher. He forces him to confess to Anderson, who tells Munson. Despite personal lobbying by the President, the subcommittee chairman insists that the White House withdraw the nomination due to Leffingwell's perjury or he will subpoena Fletcher to testify. The President angrily refuses but the majority leader admits that the White House will soon have to nominate another candidate. Anderson delays his committee's report on Leffingwell but the President sends Fletcher out of the country, angering the senator.
Anderson and his wife receive anonymous phone calls from Van Ackerman's men warning that, unless the subcommittee reports favorably on Leffingwell, information about what happened with "Ray" in Hawaii will appear. A worried Anderson visits a fellow Army veteran, Ray Shaff, in New York. Shaff admits that he sold evidence of a past homosexual relationship between the two. Hudson, Anderson's friend Smith, and others attempt to counsel the troubled chairman but, unable to reconcile his duty and his secret, Anderson commits suicide.
The President denies to Munson and Hudson knowing about the blackmail. He tells the majority leader that he is dying and that Leffingwell's confirmation is vital. Munson criticizes Cooley for opposing the nominee but not exposing Fletcher, forcing Anderson to bear the pressure alone. Anderson's death, nonetheless, permits the subcommittee and the Foreign Relations Committee to proceed with the nomination. Both report favorably to the full Senate.
In the Senate Chamber Cooley apologizes for his "vindictiveness". While he will vote against Leffingwell and his "alien voice", the senator will not ask others to follow. Munson, moved by Cooley's action, cites the "tragic circumstances" surrounding the confirmation. Although the majority leader will vote for Leffingwell, he will permit a conscience vote from others. Hudson's quorum call and the majority leader's refusal to yield the floor prevent Van Ackerman from speaking until Munson asks for the "Yeas and Nays", ending debate. The majority leader tells the senator that were it not for the Andersons' privacy the Senate would censure and expel him. Van Ackerman angrily leaves the chamber before the vote.
Munson's side is slightly ahead until Smith unexpectedly votes against Leffingwell, and the majority leader prepares for the Vice President to break the tie in the nominee's favor. Secret Service agents enter the chamber and Hudson receives a message from the Senate Chaplain. He announces that he will not break the tie, causing the nomination to fail, and that the President has died during the vote. As he leaves with the Secret Service, Hudson tells Munson that he wants to choose his own Secretary of State. The film ends as Munson makes a motion to adjourn due to the former president's death.Henry Fonda as Robert A. Leffingwell
Charles Laughton as Senator Seabright "Seab" Cooley of South Carolina and President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Don Murray as Senator Brigham "Brig" Anderson of Utah
Walter Pidgeon as Senate Majority Leader Robert "Bob" Munson of Michigan
Peter Lawford as Senator Lafe Smith of Rhode Island
Gene Tierney as Dolly Harrison
Franchot Tone as The President
Lew Ayres as Vice President Harley Hudson and former Governor of Delaware
Burgess Meredith as Herbert Gelman
Eddie Hodges as Johnny Leffingwell
Paul Ford as Senate Majority Whip Stanley Danta of Connecticut
George Grizzard as Senator Frederick "Fred" Van Ackerman of Wyoming
Inga Swenson as Ellen Anderson
Edward Andrews as Senator Orrin Knox of Illinois
Paul McGrath as Hardiman Fletcher
Will Geer as Senate Minority Leader Warren Strickland of Idaho
Betty White as Senator Bessie Adams of Kansas
Malcolm Atterbury as Senator Tom August of Minnesota, chairman of Foreign Relations Committee
J. Edward McKinley as Senator Powell Hanson of New Mexico
Bill Quinn as Senator Paul Hendershot of Indiana
Tom Helmore as British Ambassador
Irv Kupcinet as journalist
NoteAppearing in two scenes as Senator McCafferty — who, whenever awakened from a deep sleep, automatically responds "Opposed, sir! Opposed!" — was the 87-year-old Henry F. Ashurst, one of the first senators elected by Arizona, serving five terms. Ashurst died on May 31, 1962, a week before the film's premiere.
Many scenes were filmed at real locations in Washington D.C., including the Capitol, the canteen of the Treasury Building, the Washington Monument and the Crystal Room of the Sheraton Carlton Hotel.
Preminger offered Martin Luther King Jr. a cameo role as a U.S. Senator from Georgia, although there were no serving African-American Senators at the time. King reportedly gave the offer serious consideration but eventually turned it down, feeling that it might cause hostility and hurt the civil rights movement.
Former Vice President Richard Nixon was offered the role of the Vice President, but refused and pointed out some "glaring and obvious" errors in the script, presumably including the critical fact that under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the Vice President automatically assumes the office of the president upon the president's death, and would not have been able to cast a tie-breaking vote as Vice President even if he had wished to.
Advise & Consent was one of a sequence of Preminger films that challenged both the Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and the Hollywood blacklist. It pushed censorship boundaries with its depiction of a married senator who is being blackmailed over a wartime homosexual affair, and was the first mainstream American movie after World War II to show a gay bar. Preminger confronted the blacklist by casting left-wing actors Will Geer and Burgess Meredith. It was the first of five films in which Preminger cast Meredith.
It also marked the screen comeback of Gene Tierney, whose breakthrough to major stardom came in Preminger's 1944 film Laura. Tierney had withdrawn from acting for several years because of her ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder. Advise & Consent was the last of four films she made for Preminger and one of her last major film roles.
Actress Betty White (best known for her later roles in the sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls), made her film debut in Advise & Consent, appearing in one scene as a young senator from Kansas.
Henry Fonda's character Leffingwell was seen as drawing particularly on real-life State Department official (and Soviet spy) Alger Hiss.
It was Charles Laughton's last film; he was suffering from cancer during filming, and died six months after the film's release. There was genuine lingering animosity between him and Fonda, stemming from Laughton having directed Fonda in the 1954 Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, during which Fonda had insulted Laughton and made sneering reference to his homosexuality, according to Elsa Lanchester and others.
Peter Lawford was John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law when the story was filmed. He plays Lafe Smith, identified as a senator from Rhode Island (and modeled on Kennedy), although in Drury's book the character represents Iowa.
The staff of Variety liked the acting but believed the screenplay was problematic. They wrote, "As interpreted by producer-director Otto Preminger and scripter Wendell Mayes, Advise and Consent is intermittently well dialogued and too talky, and, strangely, arrested in its development and illogical… Preminger has endowed his production with wholly capable performers… The characterizations come through with fine clarity."
The film critic for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther, did not like the contrived storyline of the script, and he wrote, "Without even giving the appearance of trying to be accurate and fair about the existence of a reasonable balance of good men and rogues in government, Mr. Preminger and Wendell Mayes, his writer, taking their cue from Mr. Drury's book, have loaded their drama with rascals to show the types in Washington." Crowther also was bothered by the use of the "homosexual affair." He wrote, "It is in this latter complication that the nature of the drama is finally exposed for the deliberately scandalous, sensational and caustic thing it is. Mr. Preminger has his character go through a lurid and seamy encounter with his old friend before cutting his throat, an act that seems unrealistic, except as a splashy high point for the film."
The Academy Film Archive preserved Advise & Consent in 2007.
WinsNational Board of Review: NBR Award, Best Supporting Actor, Burgess Meredith; 1962.
Nominations1962 Cannes Film Festival: Palme d'Or, Otto Preminger.
British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Foreign Actor, Charles Laughton; 1963.