Advise and Consent
Adapted from Allen Drury’s novel and directed by Otto Preminger, an ailing President nominates a liberal to be Secretary of State, and the senators decide whether to confirm his nomination.
Senator Stanley Danta (Paul Ford) gets a newspaper and sees that Robert Leffingwell has been nominated to be Secretary of State. He takes a taxi to a hotel and there asks Senate Majority Leader Bob Munson (Walter Pidgeon) why he was not in on this. The leader takes a call from the President (Franchot Tone) who says the man has been dead for two weeks, and he had to get it done. Munson asks what was wrong with their list, and the President says Leffingwell can do the job they couldn’t. Munson complains that he has more enemies in Congress than anyone, and he never has cooperated with them. The President says he likes him because he does not waste his time on trifles. He says he will provide the statesmanship they need. Munson says Seab Cooley will be a problem. The President says Danta is the best whip they ever had, and Danta says that Seab will trade only for Leffingwell’s head. Munson asks the President to start with Tom August, the chairman of the Foreign Relations committee.
The Majority Leader Munson and Danta walk down the hall and notice a pretty woman coming out of an office. They knock on that door, and Senator Lafe Smith (Peter Lawford) lets them in. Munson urges Smith to get married, but he says the unmarried women got him elected. Smith says he will vote for Leffingwell, and they ask him to contact his friend Brig Anderson. Munson calls the Senate Minority Leader Warren Strickland (Will Geer) and asks him how many votes they have against Leffingwell, and he says 17 to 20. Smith calls Senator Brigham Anderson (Don Murray), and they agree the appointment will be rough. The President gave Anderson trouble on his power bill, and Anderson says he will not commit himself yet.
Senator Seabright Cooley (Charles Laughton) of South Carolina gets off a streetcar, and Munson and Danta talk to him outside the Capitol. Cooley says he believes that Leffingwell will lead them to perdition. They say he is holding a grudge. They go in, and in the hall Senator Fred Van Ackerman (George Grizzard) says his peace organization will support Leffingwell. Danta asks if they are making peace with the Kickapoo Indians, and Van Ackerman gets testy. He tells four men that he will see them later, and Danta asks him what those men do. Van Ackerman says they are his brain trust. He asks Munson if the nomination will go to a sub-committee, and Munson says that depends on Tom August. Van Ackerman favors Leffingwell, and he would like to be the subcommittee chairman.
Munson assures Danta that Van Ackerman won’t get any help from him. Munson goes into his office and is given his messages.
Johnny Leffingwell (Eddie Hodges) answers the telephone at home, and Munson asks to speak to his father. Johnny goes to Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda), who is typing and tells him to say he is not there because he does not want to become obligated. Johnny does not want to lie, but his father explains it is a “Washington lie” that everyone understands. Johnny tells the secretary Bess the message.
Munson tells Danta that Leffingwell may become the best Secretary of State they ever had.
Johnny tells his father he could be a good Secretary of State, and it would be worth the try.
Dolly Harrison (Gene Tierney) with two ladies goes into the Senate gallery. Munson arrives, and he asks if beginning the Leffingwell hearings tomorrow is too soon. They ask the Minority Leader Strickland who says Munson’s party will be strongly divided on Leffingwell, and maybe he wants to push it through quickly. Dolly explains that the majority is on one side, and the minority sits on the other side. Vice President Harley Hudson (Lew Ayres) comes in, and Dolly says he is the president of the Senate. He calls the Senate to order and asks the chaplain to pray. They all stand up and bow their heads during the invocation. Munson speaks first, and they call the roll.
In a hall and in offices a bell rings. Smith wakes up an elderly senator for the quorum call. Hudson asks Munson if he can help Leffingwell, and he asks Danta what is going on; but he is not really listening to Hudson. Senator Tom August (Malcolm Atterbury) tells Munson that the President wants a closed hearing. Munson says that is impossible. They agree on a subcommittee and discuss who to appoint as chairman. They decide on Anderson even though Van Ackerman will be offended his junior was appointed. August and Munson ask Anderson if he would take the job, and he wants it. They go back to the Senate.
Munson tells Cooley he is letting Senator Orrin Knox (Edward Andrews) speak for him, and he refuses to yield to Munson. Knox says they are trying to railroad the nomination through the Senate. Knox yields to Cooley who defends his friend from Illinois. He feels revulsion for the President’s nomination which can affect the destiny of the world. Cooley yields to Lafe Smith who asks if Cooley thinks he knows more about what is needed than the President, and Cooley says yes. Smith says he has a closed mind and is prejudiced. Cooley says he is arousing commotion because of this disturbing man Leffingwell. Cooley says Leffingwell will pursue a policy of appeasement and destroy their traditions. He begs the senators to reject him.
At night an orchestra plays at an outdoor party for Washington insiders. Dolly listens to a discussion, and Van Ackerman asks to talk to Munson. They go aside, and Munson tells him they did not want Fred who says he will still campaign for Leffingwell whom he says is the difference between peace and war. Munson walks in the garden and sits down with Vice President Hudson who says the President has not seen him for six weeks. Hudson does not want to be President. He says there are rumors about the President’s health, and he believes he should be told about it. Munson says his surgery last year was not successful.
At a table with Cooley the zealous Van Ackerman argues with Knox, and then he goes outside.
Munson drives to a residence and takes an elevator to the second floor. Dolly welcomes him with a kiss, and he says she gave a great party. She asks if he thinks she is a bitch. She sits down, and he puts his arm around her. He asks how long they have to keep up the secrecy, but she does not want to spoil what they have. He says maybe she won’t marry him because she is afraid he won’t get re-elected. She lies on his lap, and they kiss.
In a Senate committee room Anderson calls the meeting to order and says they are there to consider the President’s nomination of Leffingwell for Secretary of State. Leffingwell stands up and takes an oath to tell the truth. Van Ackerman comes in and tells Anderson they will approve the nomination quickly. Some applaud. Leffingwell says he would rather answer questions. Knox wishes he would make an opening statement, and he asks if he is loyal to the United States. He quotes Leffingwell about outworn principles of the past, and he asks what principles he meant. Cooley criticizes him for speaking on foreign policy while he was working on defense. Knox says he made a series of speeches on foreign policy. Anderson asks if he thinks it is wrong to suspect the Communists, and Leffingwell says he thinks they may want peace now. Knox asks if he wants to placate the Communists. Leffingwell says no, but he would hope to get an agreement. Cooley asks what he would give away to the Communists. Leffingwell says he is not ashamed of anything. Anderson asks Knox to resume, and Cooley accuses him of trying to silence him. Leffingwell is asked about his friendships at the University of Chicago, and Herbert Gelman said he associated with left-wingers or Communists. The senator from Hawaii asks if he would yield strategic positions, and Leffingwell says he would not. The senator asks if he would go to war or recommend a preventive attack, and Leffingwell says he would negotiate. Cooley says he would never crawl or give away their freedoms. Some applaud. Leffingwell says Cooley still believes in outworn principles regarding war that are no longer appropriate. More people applaud. Anderson asks if they should discontinue their pride in their freedoms. Leffingwell says they have to walk a line that balances freedoms and safety. Knox asks Leffingwell if he is an egghead, and he admits that he is. People laugh, and Anderson recesses for lunch. Reporters question Leffingwell, and he says he wants to eat lunch. Van Ackerman says these questions are irresponsible, and they are using smear tactics. They ask Anderson who says the senator could write to his Congressman.
Anderson calls on Cooley, and he says he has no questions. Anderson says then they can adjourn the hearing. People get up, and Cooley asks them to wait because he has a witness to call. Herbert Gelman (Burgess Meredith) is called and takes the oath. He lives in Washington and is a clerk in the Treasury Department. Anderson questions him, and Gelman says he followed instructions from Cooley. Anderson asks Gelman if he knows Leffingwell. Gelman says he worked for him when he was chairman of the Federal Power Commission. He also was in one of his classes at the university. He says that Leffingwell fired him from the agency because he knows that Leffingwell is a Communist. Cooley questions Gelman who says in college he knew Max Bukowski. He invited Gelman to sit in on political discussions in his room. He says it was a Communist cell, and he dropped out. He says Leffingwell was in the group. Cooley asks what was discussed in those meetings. Gelman says Bukowski was a dogmatic Marxist who believed that only force could bring Communism to America; but Leffingwell and others believed that Communism would come as a result of the erosion of the American government. Van Ackerman demands verification of this story, and he argues with the chairman. Cooley asks about their names, and Gelman says none of them used their real names. Leffingwell was called Walker. Gelman did not take a false name but quit the group. Gelman says Leffingwell failed him in his class on administration, but he was afraid to report it. He is still afraid now, but he does not want him to be Secretary of State. He shouts he is not lying. He says Bukowski is dead, and he never saw James Morton again. Cooley asks Leffingwell if he would help them locate him. Leffingwell asks for an hour to prepare his response, and Anderson calls a recess. Munson tells Cooley that he will have enough votes to confirm Leffingwell. Cooley says he is studying the terrain.
A taxi takes Leffingwell to a building, and he is let into the family residence of Hardiman Fletcher (Paul McGrath). He says he needs to tell them the whole story and says it would be better if he was there with him. Hardiman asks how they will make people understand. He says he has a family. If they do what he wants, he will lose his job. Hardiman suggests he withdraw. Leffingwell says that would be the worst admission he could make. There would be a Senate investigation, and they would be in the same predicament. Hardiman says Gelman told many lies; he was not in one of his classes. He suggests they destroy his credibility.
At the hearing Leffingwell has Lewis Newborn (Paul Stevens) of the Federal Power Commission sworn in. Leffingwell admits that he does know Gelman and asks if he can question him. Gelman says he was in a tuberculosis sanitarium before he was fired, but he cannot remember the name of the institution. Leffingwell asks Newborn to tell the cause of Gelman’s illness. Newborn says Gelman had a mental breakdown and was in a rest home. When he came back to work, he was shaky. Newborn told Leffingwell that he wanted to let Gelman go, and Leffingwell said he would try to find him another job. Then he discharged Gelman and advised him to apply at the Treasury Department which then hired him. Leffingwell testifies that this is his complete association with Gelman. He called the University of College, and they said Gelman was a student there for a short time; but he never attended any of Leffingwell’s classes. Anderson asks Gelman what he thinks of this, and Gelman says he thought it was his duty to expose Leffingwell. Anderson questions Gelman who says he does not remember things for sure. He asks if anyone would believe him and starts to cry. Anderson dismisses him, and he apologizes to Leffingwell. Cooley refuses to join that, and he leaves the room. Leffingwell says the committee owes him no apology, and he will serve his country whenever he can.
Cooley goes to a personnel office and asks for the employment record of Herbert Gelman.
Leffingwell goes in to see the President who says it looks like he is in. Leffingwell says he is not in, and he is not going to be in. He asks him to withdraw his nomination because he lied at the hearing. The President smokes, stands up, and walks around. Leffingwell says he knew Gelman at Chicago and at those Communist meetings. He was never a member and was looking for a cause. He realized that that was not it, and he quit the group. He made the mistake of giving Gelman a job to keep him from talking. He knew Cooley had him set up for the witch-hunters. The President asks if anyone else knows he lied, and Leffingwell says only Hardiman Fletcher who was James Morton. He says he won’t talk.
Cooley in the evening is walking in a park by the Washington monument where he meets Hardiman Fletcher who arrives in a taxi. Cooley talks about Washington and the truth, and he asks Fletcher to take a walk. Cooley says he learned that Fletcher approved Gelman’s application for a job at Treasury. Cooley says he may have to investigate his loyalty and calls him James Morton. Cooley tells him to call Anderson and make a small confession. Cooley says his confidence will be protected, and he will have done a noble duty.
The hearing room is nearly empty, and Knox gets a message from Anderson that they will not be meeting today.
In his office Munson asks Anderson if it was Fletcher who called him. Munson says he is protecting himself, and he tells his secretary to call the President.
Van Ackerman in the Senate says that the chairman is blocking a vote. He yields to a question from a woman from Kansas who says she needs more proof than his word. Senators laugh at the impetuous Van Ackerman who refers to the sex of the senator from Kansas. Anderson says he is only doing his duty. Van Ackerman says anyone can be frightened, and Hudson advises him not to make any threats. Van Ackerman moves that the subcommittee be discharged and that they vote on the nomination. Munson tells Danta to ask Van Ackerman to withdraw his motion, but he refuses. Danta says they are not ready and do not have the votes. Munson asks that the motion be defeated. Van Ackerman humbles himself and withdraws his motion.
In the basement Munson tells Anderson that the President was hit hard by the news on Leffingwell, and he is coming to the correspondents’ banquet. He is coming to Munson’s place afterwards and would like to talk with Anderson who says all he has to do is withdraw. Van Ackerman gets on the cart and asks Munson if he did all right. He asks if Anderson is cooperating and says he may be able to change his mind if he isn’t. Anderson tells him to get off his back. Anderson tells Munson he will see him at the banquet and walks away, and Munson tells Van Ackerman to butt out.
At the correspondents’ dinner a speaker asks them not to be reporters at this gathering. The President is introduced and is given a standing ovation. The President says he wants reporting tonight and says they will write a story. He says hello to Cooley and Anderson. He says a few days ago he nominated a good man to be Secretary of State, but the senator from South Carolina is opposed to his nominee. He says that now Anderson is trying to undermine Leffingwell. The President says he is standing by his nominee and will fight for him. Many applaud.
Munson welcomes the President into his room, and Anderson asks Munson to stay. They sit down. The President says he has to stand up for his man, and he still wants him. Anderson says if they open it up, he will never be confirmed. The President asks him not to open it up, but Anderson says he lied under oath. The President asks if he knows why he lied. The President asks him as the leader of their party to go along. Anderson says he will not subvert the committee, but the President says Cooley has subverted the committee. Anderson says he will have to call Hardiman Fletcher as a witness. The President says he can do that, and he goes out. Munson tells Anderson that the President has a case. Anderson disagrees. Munson says the President is tired and ill, and he wants to help him. Munson asks Anderson to give him a few days to save face, and then they will put up another nominee.
Anderson parks his car and goes into his house. He goes upstairs and looks in on his baby girl in her crib. He goes into his bedroom where his wife is sleeping. Ellen Anderson (Inga Swenson) turns on the light and says she was waiting for him. He says he had a fight with the President and won. She says she had a strange call from a man who said before he goes on with the Leffingwell case, he should remember what happened in Hawaii. He asks what his voice was like, and she says he made it sound like it was a nasty secret. He says he has been on the front pages lately, and they may get crackpot calls she can hang up on. She asks if he is sure he is doing the right thing. He says he is, and she asks what he meant about Hawaii. He says he was stationed there in the Army, but he does not see any connection to Leffingwell.
Ellen Anderson answers the phone and asks what the person wants. Brig takes the phone, and they hang up.
Anderson goes into the Senate and asks Munson if he has seen the President. He says he is on the Chesapeake for a boat race.
Anderson walks in the park and sees Cooley sitting on a bench. He sits down, and Cooley says he has them treed; but they are devious men. He says Hardiman Fletcher took a plane to Europe on a mission for the President to make a study of world currency problems. Anderson asks Cooley what his role is, and Cooley says he is his friend. Anderson thanks him because he may need him.
Anderson finds Munson in the cafeteria and asks him about Fletcher. Munson says he does not know anything about it. Anderson asks why the President did it, and Munson says maybe he is making sure that Anderson does not jump the gun.
Lafe Smith answers the phone and tells Anderson it is for him. Anderson takes the phone, and a man tells him they have photographs and the letter regarding what went on in Hawaii. Anderson tells Munson that he will not be scared off. He demands that Leffingwell withdraw today.
In his office Anderson asks his secretary if Raymond Shaff called recently, and he asks if he left a number. She says she has no telephone number, but she has an address in New York City.
Johnny Leffingwell comes home and opens a coke. He hears his father talking with Anderson who says he will not wait. He tells Leffingwell that he will recall him to the stand, and he must not lie this time. Leffingwell says he gave the President his word, and he still places value on it even though it is no longer as valuable because of his committee. Leffingwell opens the door and has him leave. He sees his son and asks if he heard that and understood it. He says he will tell him the truth, and they sit down in his office.
Ellen tells Brig she wants to talk to him. She says she had another call and took it. She says she worked for him, and she knows politics can be cruel. She wants to know what the trouble is. She asks if he knows someone named Ray. She sends their little girl into the garden. She says the man said to tell him that they had bought Ray. She asks what that means, and he says he does not know. He tells her to leave it to him. She says they are trying to get at him through her. He says he is trying to find out what those phone calls are about. She suspects that he is not telling her the truth. She asks him to prepare her for what may happen. She wants to help him. She asks if it is about a woman, and she admits they have not had an exciting marriage. He says nothing is her fault. He says it is something from before he knew her. She says he may have to do what they want. He says if he did that, he would be giving up everything he worked for. She asks if she should take their daughter and go. She wants to know what he wants her to do. He says he has to see if he can stop these people first, and then he will tell her. She says she could not leave him, and she hugs him. She is crying and talks to her daughter. She asks where daddy is going.
Anderson buys a plane ticket, and they hold the plane for him.
Ellen talks with Lafe Smith and admits she is meddling. He says Brig may not have to know she talked to him. He says he may be protecting someone else. He advises her to have him call him at Dolly’s.
In a party Dolly welcomes Lafe who asks her to have Munson come to him. Lafe tells him that Anderson has someone blackmailing him. Munson asks where he is, and Lafe says he was looking for him. He is hoping for a call from him there.
Anderson takes a taxi to an address, and asks if it is Raymond Shaff. The door is opened, and he goes upstairs. Fat Manuel invites him into his apartment and says he is a friend of Ray’s. He says he is a confidential answering service for Ray. Manuel serves tea, and Anderson gives him some money. Anderson asks where Ray is and wants his address or phone number. He admits it is urgent. Manuel says he will be at the Club 602. He says he can come back there with Ray because he paid.
Anderson goes in the Club 602, and he sees that only men are there. He gets scared and goes out. Ray Shaff (John Granger) goes after him and calls his name. A man complains that Ray was with him. Anderson summons a taxi. Ray says he needed money and that he kept calling, but he would not see him. Anderson gets in the taxi, and Ray tries to keep the door open. Anderson closes the door and pushes Ray who falls in the muddy gutter.
Anderson boards a plane. Vice President Hudson is on the plane and sits next to Anderson who says he was in New York on business. Hudson knows Anderson is being pushed and wonders why he is going it alone. Hudson offers to help him, and Anderson says he is under-estimated. Anderson wants him to forget it.
Hudson offers to give Anderson a ride home, and he says he has his car there.
Anderson goes to the Capitol, and a policeman gives him the message that Senator Smith wants him to call him. Anderson walks up the stairs and goes into his office. He turns on the light, takes off his coat, and lets the phone ring.
Ellen is calling, hangs up, and answers the door but does not see anyone. She finds a large envelop with writing on the outside and takes it in the house. The message implies blackmail with photos, and she opens it up. She sees a picture of Brig and Ray, and she reads his letter to Ray about how he wants to go back to a normal life.
The policeman is trying doors and hears a phone ringing. He uses a key and enters the office and looks around. He hears water running and knocks on the bathroom door which is locked.
Dolly is playing poker with Cooley, Munson, Smith, and other senators. Smith is called out to the telephone, and Munson follows him. Smith puts the phone down and tells him that Anderson is dead in his office; he cut his throat. They go back in, and Munson announces his suicide.
Ellen at home tells Smith, Munson, and Hudson that she does not know what they were trying to use against him. She says they can’t use it anymore. Hudson asks if Brig knew who was behind this, and she says no. She is crying and goes upstairs.
On a ship Munson and Hudson are talking with the President. Munson says he knows Van Ackerman was behind it; but he does not know if he was alone. He says it is a Senate matter. The President asks what happens if he is not alone. Munson says that Hudson may want a straight answer. Munson says the President may be suspected, and he should withdraw Leffingwell. The President says he is always suspected by some because people are suspicious of power. He is sorry that Anderson is dead, but he still needs a Secretary of State. He says now they could bring the Leffingwell nomination to a vote; they have the votes and should use them. The President asks Hudson what he thinks. He says he saw Anderson in much pain last night, and he wonders if this or anything is worth this. The President says wondering does not run a government, and he says goodnight to Harley who leaves. Munson starts to leave, but the President tells him why he wants Leffingwell so badly. He admits his body is dying. He believes that Leffingwell can continue his foreign policy, but he doubts that Harley can. Munson asks him to bring Harley in to get his help. The President says he does not have the time. The President admits he was wrong in many things, but he did his best. Munson says he is one of the great presidents, and they say goodnight.
Munson arrives at a hotel in a car and gets his messages from the clerk. He see Cooley sitting in the lobby and asks if he was waiting for him. Cooley says that tomorrow he is going to raise the dome off the Capital and says he knows about James Morton. Munson asks how long he has known about him. He says that Cooley played for a moment while the President is dying for a man he believes in. He says Anderson gave him his big moment with his suicide. Cooley offers a deal. If he will free his votes, he will keep his mouth shut. Munson calls it extortion and says no.
Senator August reports that the subcommittee has reported that 8 voted for confirmation with 5 votes opposed. Munson moves that the Senate advise and consent to the nomination of Leffingwell for Secretary of State. Hudson recognizes Cooley of South Carolina. He stands up and admits that he has been somewhat vindictive, and he apologizes to the Senate and the President. He still opposes Leffingwell but without vindictiveness. He does not want to hear his voice represent America. He does not understand how principles of dignity can become outworn. He is voting against confirmation, but he asks no one to follow him in that. Munson rises and says Cooley has just eaten crow, and he makes us want to join him. He does not agree with him about Leffingwell, and he believes his voice is realistic. He agrees with the President and will vote for him. He release all pledges made to him, and Van Ackerman tries to protest. Hudson says the quorum call must precede any more discussion.
The President hears on the radio that the outcome cannot be predicted now.
In the Senate they are trying to figure out who is voting each way. Munson says they have 7 minority votes and 42 majority votes; they still have a chance to win. Munson says he still has the floor, and he asks for the vote.
The President is listening to the radio reporting on the Senate and appears to be ill.
Hudson has the clerk call the roll, and Van Ackerman complains to Munson who tells him they will tolerate a lot there; but he has dishonored them. Van Ackerman says he acted for the good of the country. Munson says their country manages to survive patriots like him. They could introduce a resolution to censor him, but they do not want Anderson’s old sin made public. They will let Van Ackerman stay if he wants to. Van Ackerman hesitates and then leaves the chamber. Danta says they should have waited for Van Ackerman’s vote. Now he may not be confirmed.
The President learns that the vote is going to be close and that Hudson would break the tie to support the President. He puts out a cigarette and collapses, and an aide calls for a doctor.
Smith votes no. Munson is surprised, and Danta says that will tie it. Munson tells Hudson that he will have to make it good. Hudson is given a paper and reads it.
A group of men in suits enter the Capitol, and they go through various doors into the Senate. Hudson announces that the vote is tied 47-47, and he says that the Vice President will not exercise his option to break the tie. Therefore the nomination of Leffingwell is defeated. Hudson announces that the President died a few minutes ago. He asks the senior Senator Cooley to assume the chair. Cooley wishes Hudson good luck. Hudson tells Munson that he prefers to name his own Secretary of State. Munson says he will do what he can for him. Munson is recognized and says they have lost a great leader of their country, and he moves that they adjourn out of respect. The senators leave the chamber.
This political drama reflects how fear of Communism during the Cold War affected American foreign policy, a main concern of the United States Senate which confirms cabinet officers. Because scandal can ruin the career of a politician who depends on voters, fear of it can be used for blackmail.