In case you hadn’t heard, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has recently announced that she’s retiring in 2016. For the first time in decades, there’s going to be an open senate seat in California. There’s been a lot of speculation about who might run for the seat and, for the most part, it’s all been the usual political suspects. The state’s attorney general is running. A few congresspeople might run. Token billionaire Tom Steyer is thinking of getting into the race.
What disappoints me is that, as of right now, it doesn’t look like any celebrities are planning on running. You know what would have made the Golden Globes perfect? If George Clooney had announced his candidacy while accepting his Cecil B. DeMille award. (At the very least, it might have given Amal something to smile about, as opposed to just sitting there with a condescending smirk on her face. Seriously, what’s up with that?) But even beyond George Clooney, there’s all sorts of celebrities who could run. Charlie Sheen lives in California, after all. Jeff Bridges might not be able to run in Montana but what about California?
I was discussing this with a friend of mine who suggested that Betty White should run because who could vote against Betty White? Speaking for myself, I could easily vote against Betty White but I do think there would be something appropriate about Betty White serving in the U.S. Senate. After all, in 1962, she played a senator in Otto Preminger’s political epic, Advice & Consent.
White played Sen. Bessie Adams of Kansas and was only given a few minutes of screen time. She’s one of many performers to show up in Advise & Consent‘s version of the U.S. Senate.
For instance, Walter Pidgeon plays Sen. Bob Munson, who is the Senate majority leader and, as a result, the closest thing that this sprawling film has to a central character. His job is to make sure the President’s agenda is pushed through Congress.
And then there’s Peter Lawford, as Sen. Lafe Smith, who always has a different girl leaving his hotel room. When Advise & Consent was made, Lawford was President Kennedy’s brother-in-law. Interestingly enough, one of Kennedy’s former girlfriends — actress Gene Tierney — shows up in the film as well, playing Bob Munson’s lover.
George Grizzard plays Sen. Fred Van Ackerman, who is about as evil as you would expect someone named Fred Van Ackerman to be. Grizzard gives one of the better performances in the film, which just goes to prove that it’s more fun to play an evil character than a good one.
Don Murray is Sen. Brigham Anderson, a senator who is being blackmailed by Van Ackerman’s lackeys. Despite being happily married to Mabel (Inga Swenson), Anderson is leading a secret life as a gay man. The scene where Anderson steps into a gay bar may seem incredibly tame today but it was reportedly very controversial back in 1962.
And finally, there’s Sen. Seabright Cooley. You may be able to guess, just from his overly prosaic name, that Cooley is meant to be a southerner. That, of course, means that he wears a white suit, is constantly fanning himself, and speaks in lengthy metaphors. Sen. Cooley is played by Charles Laughton, who overacts to such a degree that I’m surprised that there was any oxygen left over for anyone else.
All of these senators have been tasked with deciding whether or not Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) will be the next secretary of state. Fonda, not surprisingly, is the epitome of urbane liberalness in the role of Leffingwell. However, Leffingwell has a secret. Back in the 1930s, Leffingwell was a communist. When Sen. Cooley introduces a witness (Burgess Meredith) who can confirm this fact, Leffingwell offers to withdraw as the nominee. However, the President (Franchot Tone) refuses to allow Leffingwell to do so. Instead, with the help of Van Ackerman, he tries to pressure Anderson into supporting Leffingwell’s nomination.
This, of course, leads to melodrama and tragedy.
As far as literary adaptations directed by Otto Preminger are concerned, Advise & Consent is better than Hurry Sundown while being nowhere to close to being as good as Anatomy of a Murder. It’s a film that is occasionally entertaining, often draggy, and, if just because of all the different acting styles to be found in the cast, always interesting to watch.
And, for what it’s worth, Betty White makes for a convincing senator. So, perhaps the people of California should watch Advise & Consent before voting for Tom Steyer…