“Son, this is a Washington, D.C. kind of lie. It’s when the other person knows you’re lying, and also knows you know he knows.”
Other than the slowly gripping storyline itself (which takes its time getting to the crux of the drama), what’s perhaps most memorable about Advise & Consent are the documentary-like glimpses it affords of Washington, D.C. at work, complete with underground shuttles taking the senators to and from their sessions, and highly realistic interactions on the senate floor (with the senators referring to each other in third person). And, as Eric Henderson writes in his review of the film for Slant Magazine, “Preminger’s filmed version of the novel makes up for the various excised subplots and legal-procedural nitty-gritty with a typically unerring sense of spatial intrigue” — in other words, it’s surprisingly visually arresting for a “courtroom” drama.
Meanwhile, the ensemble performances throughout are largely top-notch, and feature some unexpected surprises (i.e., a young Betty White in her film debut as an outspoken senator). Don Murray (whose notable earlier roles included ‘Bo’ in Bus Stop, and Johnny in Hatful of Rain) is perfectly cast, and entirely believable, in what turns out to be the film’s tragic central role — that of Senator Brigham Anderson, a “family man” with a conflicted history he’s determined to keep hidden at all costs. In his final role (playing Southern Senator “Seab” Cooley), Charles Laughton gives a typically nuanced yet showy performance; and Walter Pidgeon is solidly effective in a smaller role as the Senate House Majority Leader.
P.S. If you haven’t seen the film or read the novel, be careful reading reviews online; almost all give away the central plot “twist”, which I’ve only hinted at here.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: