Throw the book away. Should movies be judged on their own merits and not on the books from which they often give cinematic form to, and nver mind where the original ideas came from? A classic example is form the oldies archive, but is worth dusting off and spooling the celluloid; Allen Drury’s novel Advise and Consent, and the film testament of it by the late Otto Preminger.
Typically, a novel is hanged, drawn, quartered, and its bowels torn out, in order that its story may fit comfortably into the never-never land of American movies. The borders of this mysterious country are defined by “what the public wants” and to some extent what movie codes will permit, and within this realm, love’s problems end in marriage or common-law bliss, men respond to provocation by violence and girls somehow retain an aura, a hint of the saint, despite all evidence. Its all variations on formula that serves to reinforce the status-quo no matter how rebellious or individualistic it is made to appear.
American writers as a group, which began with the years of Roosevelt’s New Deal have basically, in the role of P.R, the entertainment wing,the Industrial entertainment complex, have demonstrated a liberal social consciousness: corruption, civil right, Okies, etc, following the mood and views of the liberal segment of the audience; the side of the Little Guy and Gal who happen to be the biggest consumers. American movies have tended to be democratic, white liberal contrivances. After all, the philosophy of the Happy Ending coincides with the American Liberal Dream.
Advise and Consent was really the brainchild of its producer and director, Otto Preminger. Allen Drury’s novel dealt with the controversial nomination of a Secretary of State. His nominee, and the President of the United States himself, are “appeasers” of Russia and actually corrupt men. The nominee, questioned by a Senate subcommittee on alleged dabbling in Communism, perjures himself. The President tries to have the subcommittee chairman silenced; he gets a rabble rousing, Left-wing senator to blackmail the chairman by threatening to reveal a homosexual incident in the latter’s past.
The chairman kills himself, but a new senator takes over the committee; a grassroots, homespun, gentlemanly type from Illinois in the tradition of President Taft. This man, Orrin Knox, is the real hero of Drury’s book. Knox avenges the dead chairman, routs the President and his nominee, and- as a heart attack puts the President out of he way- saves the nation from the Reds.
The book was a smash, a multi-million copy seller in its time, and was followed by a Broadway adaptation that faithfully followed the book on a script by Loring Mandel, all with Drury’s approval. Time and Life included are leftists; the European ambassadors sound like the foreigners in a Vaudeville sketch; and the President is not just a villain, but a villain on the level of a corrupt precinct captain. “what can we use to threaten him?” he askes about the recalcitrant senator. “…There’s always something.”
It was no secret that Preminger was not in Drury’s political company; the answer to the riddle, “Why did he film this book then?” is brief. He did not. ( to be continued) ….