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Politics are a dirty game, even with honest Henry Fonda up for office

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of the Abscam comedy American Hustle has us thinking back on other films about politics and corruption.

Advise & Consent (1962)

Otto Preminger tears into corrupt governmental wheeling and dealing—specifically the House Un-American Activities Committee—in the stellar, star-studded Advise & Consent. Based on Allen Drury’s 1959 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Preminger’s tale revolves around the nomination of Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) for Secretary Of State—a choice that pleases Senate Majority leader Bob Munson (Walter Pidgeon) but is vocally opposed by rascally Minority leader and self-described curmudgeon Seabright Cooley (Charles Laughton). Cooley views Leffingwell as an appeaser because he suspects that the man is a communist. That accusation forms the basis for much of the opening half of Preminger’s film, in which congressional hearings and back-room plotting reveal a web of shady behavior, most of it driven more by political opportunism and personal vendettas than the principles of dignity Cooley claims are the basis for his vociferous opposition to Leffingwell.


Preminger’s camera navigates corridors, hallways, and private chambers to suggest the intricate traffic-pattern nature of Washington, D.C. power maneuvering. The costs of youthful mistakes are soon pitted against the greater national good—a conflict that’s brought to the fore when Utah senator Brig Anderson (Don Murray) is blackmailed by Leffingwell supporters into pushing through the nomination, lest his wartime homosexual affair be exposed. That twist is merely the last of Advise & Consent’s many seedy slams against Beltway business as usual, all of them delivered by an impressive cast, led by Laughton as a crotchety old-time villain incapable of understanding his new, increasingly modern country. And despite the relative smallness of his role, Fonda looms large, playing a noble man for whom past indiscretions remain present-day hindrances to progress.

Availability: Advise & Consent is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase through several of the major digital services.

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