Advise and Consent
What a different world it was. There is a scene where the Junior Senator from Utah boards an airplane (tourist class, no less) in Boston, and who should be getting aboard right behind him but the Vice-President (of the United States!) and his little wife. Just the two of them! Now, the IMDb has a note under GOOFS that notes the VP was entitled to Secret Service protection starting in 1954, and points out that it was highly unlikely that the Veep would travel that way, or hail a taxi on the street, as he does in another scene. Probably not. And yet … this scenario was presented as plausible, and I’ll bet nobody in the audience thought a thing of it. And it could have happened. Neither the Prez or the Veep were the total prisoners of security that they are today. They could go for walks.
This is the last political movie of the 1950s. I say that because I don’t believe the ‘60s began until November 22, 1963. (It’s not really a decade, it’s a state of mind, and everything changed on that day, as it did on September 11, 2001.) Now, of course, Dick Cheney never travels to even a kindergarten without 12 armored SUVs and having the 82nd Airborne descend on it first to line those little fuckers up against the wall and perform a body cavity search. At the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, the diapers of babes in arms are searched for bombs before they are allowed into The Presidential Presence. (I’m not making this up.) God, I hate the police state. I suppose it’s necessary—much of it, anyway. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded if somebody had turned out Bush’s lights eight years ago—better yet, twenty years ago—and yet I want about 1000 steely-eyed storm troopers facing outwards with Uzis locked and loaded every time President Obama and his family appear in public … I never claimed to be consistent, just angry and frustrated …
Oh, right, I’m supposed to be reviewing the movie.
It’s slow. Oddly enough, we had just seen a documentary, The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing. There was a part of it that showed the old “factory” system of editing that prevailed from the early days of sound to the end of the studio system. It was pretty cut and dried (so to speak), and didn’t credit the audience with much in the way of imagination. Funny, because as early as Edwin S. Porter‘s The Great Train Robbery (1903), generally thought to be the first narrative film, audiences showed they could understand pretty much all the film language that exists even today, and D.W. Griffith refined those story-telling techniques. But the studios were adamant. Here’s how you cut a scene: Establishing shot, two shot, then the close-ups of the characters. If someone went from Place A to Place B, you must show them boarding the airplane or getting into the car. You must show the car arriving or the plane landing at Place B, show the character getting out. There is so much of this stuff in films of this era, and usually you let it slide if you love old movies … unless the film is too slow. I suppose Frank Capra used the same formula, but he made it snappy. Otto Preminger was a rather ponderous director, and when you start to snooze, well, you notice that this is the eighth friggin’ time somebody has driven up to a house, parked, got out, walked up the path, and knocked on the door. Or other similar time-wasters. Make it move! you want to shout. “Moving picture” doesn’t mean we want to spend a lot of time seeing people walk, or drive, or punch elevator buttons, unless something else is going on.
So I’ve digressed again, but the reason is that the movie was slow enough that I had time to think about these things. So … one more try … it’s star-studded, some of it is actually filmed in the U.S. Capital building, it’s fairly intelligent. (Idle thought: I wonder how many times Hollywood has constructed the U.S. Senate Chamber since Frank Capra did it in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?) It’s about the confirmation hearings for a controversial Secretary of State, played by Henry Fonda, but he’s actually not around all that much. The film really belongs to Walter Pidgeon and Charles Laughton (his last role, and he looks like death). But about the best I can say for it is that it’s of its time, as opposed to timeless.