Advise and Consent

Wowza!

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.

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Saratoga

Saratoga (1937)

Gasser

     I had mentioned when reviewing Jean Harlow’s Platinum Blonde that it was odd to see the sexy, sassy gal playing a high-society dame, but in Saratoga that same sort of part fits a bit more comfortably on the star. She is like usual paired opposite Clark Gable in what would be her last picture before dying at age 26.

     Harlow had developed kidney failure, later attributed to scarlet fever in her youth, that slowly broke down the star’s health. Filming was 90% complete on Saratoga when she died much to the surprise of all around her. In order to produce a tribute and profit off the fans that wanted one last view of the blonde, MGM employed separate body and voice doubles to allow Harlow’s character, somewhat noticeably, to hide behind large hats or face away from the camera. Saratoga was top at the box office in 1937.

     The story follows Gable as Duke Bradley who is not just a horse-racing book keeper but a pal to Frank Clayton (Jonathan Hale) who owns a horse-breeding farm but is also in debt to the bookie. Frank hands over the deed to his farm as collateral just before dying. Duke naturally plans to give the deed to the daughter, Carol Clayton (Harlow) but when the snooty brat makes plans to pay him for it, he decides to take her for a ride. Carol plans to wed a Wall Street big shot Hartley Madison (Walter Pidgeon) whom Duke knows as a big gambler and the perfect mark. Duke continues to annoy Carol as the two travel to various horse races. Also along is Duke’s friend Fritzi, played by Una Merkel, who has married cosmetic magnate Jesse Kiffmeyer (Frank Morgan). She loves horses and tricks her hubby into buying one at auction despite his being allergic. Hartley has also been duped into buying Carol’s own horse.

     Duke has offered Carol a cut of whatever he takes her husband-to-be for in horse racing bets, but the girl is offended and the feud between them begins. Once in Florida, Duke is really set to put his plan in motion, but Carol works to send Hartley away so he is not tempted to gamble. In the process, a doctor diagnoses her with nerves related to …uh… eager anticipation of their wedding night. Duke also refuses to leave her hotel room when Harley returns, and so the intruder hides under a couch while Carol smokes his cigar and insists Hartley stay in Florida. Upon leaving, Duke gives the gal a smooch and we see a change in her disposition.

     From here it is clear Carol is working to help Duke make a mighty profit on her fiancée, whose resources are essentially unending. When the blonde tells Duke she loves him and that she is breaking it off with her beau, the man objects because he has yet to get him for a much larger prize. What he does not tell Carol, however, is that he wants to get enough money to leave the book-keeping business and fix up the girl’s farm. So the two are at odds again and Carol connives to have the horse Duke is sure will win a big race –Fritzie’s horse– lose by switching jockeys.

     Harlow and Gable for the last time get their on screen happy ending together. Their characters here are much more subdued than the harsh criminal or tough-guy/slut personas they embodied in the past, but it makes them more every-man. Despite playing a socialite donned in conservative dress and pearls, Harlow’s character still manages to pack a punch with her words and attitude so we get a nice mix of class and lively sass.

Source: TCM.com

Feature: Shopping Spree

     I am going to diverge from the usual review post to share the stack of classic movie DVDs I purchased today. It should be known at the outset that I essentially refuse to buy a DVD unless its $10 or less, which is why most of my lot these days comes in the pre-viewed form from places such as today’s vendor: Half Price Books. Oh, what would I do without that place! Now to find a place for them all.

The Petrified Forest (1936)

First up is 1936’s The Petrified Forest. This was Humphrey Bogart‘s screen debut in which he played the same role as he did in the stage version. Bogie, born in 1899, did extensive theatre work before heading to Hollywood, which in part explains why he never really looked young in movies. Leslie Howard and Bette Davis also star in this flick, and I understand Davis was a bit of terror on the set, having just begun her bitch stage. This is a fantastic story about a diner, a fugitive and the desert. I’d give this either a Ring a Ding Ding or a Wowza!

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Next in line is Mrs. Miniver with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. This is my favorite of Garson’s work in movies I’ve seen so far. It is a touching story of an English family during World War II. The flick won Best Picture for 1942 and rightfully so. As she deals with family members in the military, a home partially destroyed during an air raid and an enemy soldier visiting her home, Mrs. Miniver provides the backbone for stabilizing all that is going wrong around her. I’m going to agree with the Academy on this one and give it my first Wowza!

Beat the Devil (1954)

In Beat the Devil a band of con artists go after a bogus uranium mine. The cast includes Bogart, a blonde Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida, whose name I always associate with her lusty chest  more than anything else. I honestly don’t remember much of this film other than I thought it was good. It is written by Truman Capote , which is usually promising, and directed by John Huston, a plus for any adventure picture. The best my memory can do for me is to suggest a midline rating of Gasser.

East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden was the first James Dean movie I ever saw, and I was instantly caught by his talent. The Academy nominated him for Best Actor for this one. I find it hard to sum up the quality of Dean’s acting other than to say it is breathtaking and haunting. His emotions always seem to come off so raw. In East of Eden he, as usual, is a somewhat ostracized character trying to gain the approval of his father (isn’t he always trying to gain someone’s approval?) This one’s a really enjoyable, emotional piece, so I’ll have to go with Wowza!

Penny Serenade (1941)

Finally we come to Penny Serenade.  I’m pretty certain I have not seen this one, but I could not resist the pairing of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. The two make a great comic pairing (see My Favorite Wife) but this one appears to be a drama. I like the two enough to want to see how they pull off a story about a couple who endure hardships and find themselves nearing divorce.

Sources: Bette and Joan: A Divine Feud, The Ultimate Bogart by Ernest W. Cunningham.

These Wilder Years

Gasser  

These Wilder Years (1956)

This post and the one to follow it will focus on out-of-wedlock pregnancy, which I promise is pure coincidence. I happened to watch two films in a row that dealt with the subject — one that I always find interesting when it comes to older movies.

      Pregnancy in general seemed to be a touchy subject for film studios for many years and I’m not quite sure when Production Code restrictions were loosened to the point of allowing the subject to be explored freely. These Wilder Years is one case that caught me by surprise. It includes a 16-year-old girl (Betty Lou Keim) who is staying at an orphanage until she can have her baby, which would be given away. Now, the topic of pre-marital pregnancy, although a delicate one, has been breached plenty of times before 1956, but what caught me off guard was a scene when we actually see the proverbial “baby bump.”

      Up to this point, all films I have seen from this era conceal a woman’s enlarged abdomen even when the subject is married. Either the character simply is not seen while with child or loose shirts or dresses are worn to give the impression of maternity without actually showing any bulge. In These Wilder Years, however, Keim has one scene — in a courtroom — when she wears a dress tight to her big burden. In all other instances she is depicted in the aforementioned loose shirt.

     These Wilder Years deals with illegitimate pregnancy in additional means outside of Keim’s character. The main plotline follows James Cagney as he seeks to locate a son he fathered out of wedlock and who was given up for adoption at the same orphanage. Barbara Stanwyck, in a surprisingly un-seductive turn, runs the orphanage. Although the relationship between Cagney and Stanwyck stinks of the classic enemy-then-lover vogue, the ending offers no onset of a relationship.     In fact, the close of the picture was considerably unpredictable yet refreshingly realistic. It is both heartwarming and satisfying, even if Stanwyck is left alone. As far as the title goes, you tell me. Although it might make sense as a reference to the years of Cagney’s life when he is busy getting chicks pregnant, I think a better title is needed to embody the story.

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