Advise & Consent is a 1962 American political drama film based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Advise and Consent by Allen Drury, published in 1959. Crowther, a film critic for The New York Times, was bothered by the use of the homosexual affair in the film.
It 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 the nomination of a man with a hidden past for Secretary of State 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 in part 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 US Senate, which must use its advice and consent powers and approve or reject the appointment. The parties of both the President and the minority are divided. Senate 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, but Munson repeatedly advises him not to aggravate the situation. 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, during the subcommittee's hearing. 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 Fletcher to confess to Anderson, who tells Munson. Despite personal lobbying by the President, the subcommittee chairman insists for the White House to withdraw the nomination because of 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 and Anderson's friend, Smith, join others in attempting to counsel the troubled chairman, but unable to reconcile his duty and his secret, Anderson takes his own life.
The President denies knowing about the blackmail to Munson and Hudson. 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 and thus 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.
Sen. Seabright Cooley (Charles Laughton) speaking against the Leffingwell nomination on the Senate floor
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. The majority leader will vote for Leffingwell but 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 Van Ackerman that but for the Andersons' privacy, the Senate would have censured and expelled him. Van Ackerman 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, thus 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 because of the former president's death.