Advise and Consent

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Advise and Consent (1962)

     The movie Advise and Consent is about exactly what the title says: the U.S. Senate’s power to “advise and consent” on a presidential appointment to a certain administrative position. This process and the general proceedings of at least state-level government have become all too familiar to me in the last two years as I have been a reporter covering state government. I have seen the Ohio Senate use its advise and consent power to essentially fire someone who had been doing a job for many months but because of a scandal, the pick by a Democratic governor was not longer fit in the eyes of the Republican Senate. I, too, have been watching from afar as the U.S. Senate presently stalls on approving an Ohioan picked by President Obama to direct a new consumer protection bureau because lawmakers do not like the agency itself.

     So even though Otto Preminger‘s Advise and Consent takes place 50 years ago, the procedure still seems a bit like I was sitting at work, yet that did not negate its impact. In this fictional account, a president, played by an older Franchot Tone, has selected Henry Fonda‘s Robert Leffingwell to be his secretary of state. The selection raises much turmoil as Leffingwell has made a handful of enemies in the Senate, chief among which is Charles Laughton‘s Sen. Cooley. A special committee is formed to consider the appointment and is chaired by young Sen. Anderson (Don Murray). During the hearing, Cooley sits in and berates Leffingwell with questions about his involvement in a communist group while a college professor. He even brings in a witness who testifies that he saw Leffingwell at these meetings, but the appointee fires back by questioning the witness into admitting he had a mental breakdown in the past and indicating the address of these supposed Red meetings is actually a fire station.

     Things get hairy, however, when Cooley starts digging into this new evidence and Chairman Anderson’s wife receives threatening phone calls. The chairman is being blackmailed into pushing the approval ahead and his fate is to be a bleak one. As the story progresses, it is nearly impossible to determine from one minute to the next whether Leffingwell will be confirmed as SOS.

     The plot of Advise and Consent is packed full of heated exchanges. It’s 140 minutes are filled to the brim with a wide smattering of characters that are, frankly, difficult to keep track. Unlike other Congressional movies, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, much of the drama takes place away from the Senate floor. In fact, it is interesting to view how government works, with a majority of empty seats in the chamber when much of its business takes place. It is easy to pick protagonists and villains, although they are not all from the same party nor even on the same side of the argument as it pertains to Leffingwell. I am not sure Preminger’s telling of the story either glorifies or condemns the confirmation process for appointees but is more focused on painting the drama that could surround what is often such a quick and thoughtless process.

     I think it might go without saying that the performances in Advise and Consent are superb. An older Laughton really stands out as the southern Senator who has spent more time in the chamber than probably any other in the film. He is unpleasant and unreasonable but in a way unlike all of his other villainous characters. I was surprised to see Franchot Tone’s name associated with the president role as I know him best for his plethora of light-hearted romances, but he plays an amiable –and ill– president well. His health condition prevents the character from engaging in any grandstanding speeches or getting heated over the situation, which is absolutely doable for Tone. Gene Tierney also makes a return to the screen after a seven-year hiatus for poor mental health as Washington socialite Dolly Harrison; Peter Lawford plays bachelor Sen. Smith; and Walter Pidgeon is perfect as the president’s advocate in approving the appointment, Sen. Munson.

Sex and the Single Girl

Wowza!

Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

     Both Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis have been actors of only moderate interest to me, but after viewing Sex and the Single Girl, I’m changing my tune. This wonderful joke on married and single life and male and female standards plays both leads to their best and makes for a riveting good time.

     Curtis as Bob Weston is managing editor at STOP magazine, a filthy gossip rag that prides itself on being the worst publication in town. Wood as Dr. Helen Brown is the latest feature of the magazine and author of the best-selling “Sex and the Single Girl” advice book. She is a psychologist who, thanks to STOP, is losing clients because they believe she is a virgin. Bob plans to slyly get the truth about Helen’s sexual experience to do a follow-up story, but of course falls in love along the way.

     Bob’s neighbors are the feuding couple Frank and Sylvia Broderick, played by middle-aged Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. Frank is a hosiery manufacturer who is obsessed with examining women’s legs on a strictly professional basis, but his wife thinks he runs around. Because Frank hasn’t the time to see a marriage counselor, Bob takes it upon himself to pose as Frank and see Helen professionally, relaying any advice back to his neighbor. Doctor and patient have a moment of love at first sight upon meeting, but Bob, now known as Frank, has established himself as a married man.

     Bob makes a number of efforts to get Helen in bed, including faking a desire to kill himself that lands both parties in the river. Eventually the scam comes to a head when Helen’s request to meet with Sylvia results in three women showing up at her office, two of which are pretending to be the woman at Bob’s request. Once Bob’s identity is revealed and Sylvia understands the true nature of her husband, a car chase scene consumes the remainder of the feature.

     The last prolonged sequence in Sex and the Single Girl rings of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Race (which also features Curtis and Wood). The various parties, while chasing each other down en route to the airport, switch cars, drivers and strangers leading to the institutionalization of a police officer. The action is so distinctly different than the prior three-quarters of the flick that it could almost be it’s own short-subject movie.

    Possibly my favorite running gag in Sex and the Single Girl followed Curtis’ donning of a woman’s robe while he waits for his garments to dry at Helen’s apartment. When asked if he is uncomfortable in such a feminine item, he replies that he thinks he looks like Jack Lemmon, referencing of course Some Like It Hot, which five years earlier had both Curtis and Lemon in drag. The rest of the movie has characters saying Bob looks like Jack Lemmon at least half a dozen times.

     I cannot conclude without referencing two other essential members of the cast. First, an old Edward Everett Horton plays the head of STOP magazine and has few scenes but is a gem nevertheless. Secondly –and I thought I’d never say this– Mel Ferrer is highly amusing. He plays another psychologist in Helen’s office who finds himself fascinated with the girl after reading the STOP article. He had me giggling as he performed a rather adept solo dance while waiting for Helen to prepare for their date. On the whole, Sex and the Single Girl is highly romantic and greatly comedic and is supported by a fantastic cast.

  • Sex and the Single Girl is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 16 on TCM.

That Certain Woman

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That Certain Woman (1937)

     That Certain Woman is anything but a standard romance story or even a typical romance that must fight against scandal. Unfortunately, the sheer complexity of this Bette Davis-Henry Fonda story really drags the movie down as it becomes increasingly heavy with plot elements and its lack of realistic motives.

     Davis as Mary Donnell, formerly Mrs. Al Haines, gangster, has turner her life around since her husband’s death and works as a secretary to a big shot lawyer with whom she is considerably simpatico. Fonda is Jack Merrick who has been seeing Mary for three years and has just returned from Europe desperate to marry, displaying a supreme passion for the woman. Mary requires Jack to swear off his wealthy father’s support and get a job if she is to agree to the union. Mary’s boss, Lloyd Rogers (Ian Hunter), also a friend of Jack’s, insists on their immediate marriage –Jack’s father be damned– even sharing Mary’s sordid past with her hubby-to-be.

     On the wedding night, however, Jack’s father, played by Donald Crisp, hunts the couple down and expresses outrage that his son has allowed this low-down woman to ensnare him. Seeing that Merrick Sr. is putting up a better fight than her spouse, Mary leaves the hotel and returns to her old flat she shares with roommate Amy (Mary Phillips) and waits for her beau to show up. A year and nine months later, Mary and her son Jackie are still waiting when the mother learns Jack has married another woman in France. Almost immediately thereafter Mary, while at work, discovers that couple is hospitalized after an automobile accident. Lloyd sends his secretary away to rest and deal with the grief and the next we see her it is three years later and she is living in a lavish flat funded by her boss.

     By this point Mary is warming up to Lloyd’s now obvious feelings for her, but she knows he will never fill the void reserved for Jack. When a very ill Lloyd wanders to her apartment and ultimately dies on her sofa, the newspapers are all over the story of a mobster’s wife and her love nest. Reporters also question and imply that Lloyd is the father of young Jackie. Jack now reappears in Mary’s life and is curious about the boy, taking longer than expected to realize it is his son. Jack’s wife was paralyzed in the car accident and is wheelchair-bound, but learning of the son, he is determined to leave her and return to his true love. SPOILER That wife even comes to see Mary and beg she take her husband away for the boy’s sake, but hearing how much this woman loves her husband, Mary refuses. Even worse, she ultimately sends Jackie away to live with that couple just before taking off for Europe. Years later, in Monte Carlo, she learns Jack’s wife has died and he is now on the hunt for her, happy ending for all. END SPOILER

     That Certain Woman contains so much back and forth in Mary’s relationships that it is hard for one to decide what he wants for the woman. From the start, Lloyd seemed like a wonderful suitor for the gal, despite his unhappy marriage. Although eventually the man gets to the point where he has told his wife he wants a divorce and plans to take Mary for himself, Mary refuses to do that to his spouse. She is constantly caught in a position of “the other woman” and despite a cushy lifestyle is never able to establish herself legitimately in the eyes of the press or public. Lloyd may have been funding that home and all in it, but it does not appear Mary was actually conducting an affair with him. By the time we get our happy ending, she has gotten such a run around from Jack that it seems like her baggage is sure to weigh down her life no matter with whom she ends up. Nevermind that despite fighting to keep her son at one point she willingly gives him up, which seems utterly unrealistic.

     The never-ending saga of Mary and Jack’s romance could be doable as stories such as “Wuthering Heights” and “Pride and Prejudice” have proven, but for some reason Lloyd was too appealing and the bond between our protagonists too weak. That is not to say, however, that the acting was not superb. Fonda was really more believable at first as being the one wildly in love, but Davis brings up the rear with her proving of that same fact.

     Fonda is the youngest I have ever seen him in That Certain Woman. His dark hair frames a perfectly youthful face but his performance belies his relative newness to the big screen. He made this flick during his third year in Hollywood; although, he made at least three films during each of those first years, so he already had more than half a dozen under his belt. He was well matched against the excessively talented Davis –who made this her 33rd film– and they made a nice couple on screen.

Spencers Mountain

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Spencer's Mountain (1963)

     When I think of versatile actors who, like a chameleon, can mold their performances to fit a wide range of characters, Henry Fonda does not exactly come to mind. I have not seen a great number of his films, but through Once Upon a Time in the West and now Spencer’s Mountain, I would certainly declare the man had the ability to play whatever type he wanted. Coincidentally, the two films I mentioned that take Fonda away from his typical every-man type roles are also his most tan parts.

     In Spencer’s Mountain, Fonda plays a quarry worker who runs a family of nine children and a good amount of property during what appeared to be the same time when the film was made, the 1960s. Clay Spencer never graduated high school and it shows. Not only does Fonda affect a slight country accent but his dialogue is full of ain’ts and low-brow profanity that he delivers as if it were his natural way of speaking, not something he read from a script.

     Clay Spencer lives on a portion of land in a valley first claimed by his father –still living– 70 years prior and the family was so well-known that one of the mountains in the area was named for them. The story is a fairly hunky-dorey type. For a long while through the plot one thinks there will be no real conflict and that the story follows the rather trivial activities of this poor, country family. The eldest son of Clay and wife Olivia (Maureen O’Hara), who goes by Clayboy (James MacArthur), graduates high school with honors and wants to go to college, which is a bit of an impossibility for this poor family. Part of the story follows his plight to land a scholarship to attend the school.

     There were plenty of moments during the story when I thought, oh no! some tragic accident is going to happen here. But it did not. At least until the film was mostly over when Clay and his father get caught under a falling tree, which kills the father, but even Clay’s injury causes no real hardship for the family.

     The real star of this movie, however, are the panoramic views of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming where the flick was filmed. Spencer’s Mountain also uses Panavision, a particularly wide anamorphic widescreen format that on my rectangular flat screen TV still required two thick black bars on the top and bottom to show the full image. All outdoor views in this film are really stunning landscapes. Mountains, fields, lakes –all are on display in this beauty of a motion picture.

  • Spencer’s Mountain is set for 1:30 p.m. ET July 9 on TCM.

CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, Ohio)

For those of you who live in central Ohio as I do, you will be glad to hear CAPA has posted its lineup for this year’s Summer Movie Series. I have seen a lot of these but am always willing to rewatch something if it’s on the big screen.

I’ll definitely be seeing Hitchcock’s Frenzy as I’ve been meaning to give that another chance. Other must sees if you haven’t already include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Bringing Up Baby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Big Sleep.

Sadly, no Audrey Hepburn movie this year as there usually is. For those who have not experienced a favorite or classic movie on the big screen in a theater full of people who love the movie as much as you, it really is a memorable experience. I recommend it.

Daisy Kenyon

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Daisy Kenyon (1947)

     I have said (to myself) for a while now that Otto Preminger films never disappoint. I’m not implying that Daisy Kenyon is a let down, but it is not the sort of film for which I have come to know Preminger. It is a romance, quite unlike the mysteries, often murder mysteries, of his other work. This movie does, however,  have the darker feel and shadowy cinematography/mise-en-scene that one can identify with the director.

     Joan Crawford‘s Daisy is the girlfriend of Dana Andrew‘s Dan, who is a married attorney with two daughters. At the film’s start, Dan visits Daisy, smooches her a bit and is on his way, running into soldier Peter (Henry Fonda) on his way out, knowing full well the man is Daisy’s date. Neither male party seems off put with Daisy’s dating habits, and Peter nearly instantly falls in love with her. Dan’s wife is aware of her husband’s affair, but deals with it, to an extent taking her anger out on one of the daughters.

     Daisy eventually agrees to marry Peter, a widower, but after losing an important case, Dan forces himself on Daisy, angering her significantly. Later that night he tries to apologize via telephone, but when his wife snoops on the call a significant row begins and drives the wife to seek a divorce. If Dan will agree to relinquish custody of the girls, the wife will settle out of court. If not, a scandalous trial will ensue and Daisy will be drug into it. Dan gets both Daisy and Peter to agree to the trial route, but when Daisy is on the stand and the questioning gets too personal, Dan calls it quits.

     Divorced, Dan is interested in being with Daisy and assumes Peter will bow out, which he nearly does. When Dan approaches him with divorce papers, Peter says he wants Daisy to sign first. At this point Daisy is unsure what she wants, and it is anyone’s guess with whom she will end up.

     The trouble with Daisy Kenyon is that despite being a romance, the viewer does not get any warm, fuzzy feelings from watching it. Whereas Fonda plays Peter as a man who accepts his subordination to his wife’s other love interest, Andrews is quite cold in his affections for the title character. Although the viewer might spend the last half hour trying to predict with whom the protagonist will choose, one cannot actually find merit in either choice. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate approach, but it is one that left me caring little for the final outcome. Crawford, however, does give us the only emotion in the film, and one can understand her feelings when she seems to convey that she wants neither of them.

  • Daisy Kenyon is set for 8 p.m. ET April 22 on TCM.

What to Watch: Wednesday

I wanted to make a quick note about a great, seductive comedy set to air at 8 p.m. ET tonight, Oct. 27 on TCM. The Lady Eve is a great flick with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda involving a woman scam artist who falls for her mark. Stanwyck’s character goes so far as to reappear in Fonda’s life at a later point in the movie and claim to be an entirely different person.

Check out how Stanwyck so innocently seduces Fonda in this clip. The good stuff starts about 1:30 in.

I had a great time watching this one and recommend it for anyone with time tonight. Can’t catch it? It’s back on at 3:45 Nov. 14 and 1:30 p.m. Dec. 15.

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