Robert Leffingwell is the president's candidate for Secretary of State. Prior to his approval, he must first go through a Senate investigation to determine if he's qualified. Leading the Senate committee is idealistic Senator Brig Anderson, who soon finds himself unprepared for the political dirt that's revealed, including Leffingwell's past affiliations with a Communist organization. When Leffingwell testifies about his political leanings, he proves his innocence. Later, however, Anderson learns that he lied under oath and even asks the president to withdraw Leffingwell for consideration, especially after the young senator begins receiving blackmail threats about a skeleton in his own closet. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Director Otto Preminger offered the role of a Southern senator to Martin Luther King Jr., believing that the casting could have a positive impact (despite the fact that there were no black senators at the time). King declined after serious consideration, as he felt playing the role could cause hostility and hurt the civil rights movement. See more »
Certain errors are made in the way senators are usually called upon or addressed in the Senate chamber. In the film, senators are almost always referred to as "The senior (or junior) senator from" a state, but in fact the terms senior or junior are seldom used in recognizing or referring to a senator on the floor or in committee. Also, when Senator Lafe Smith is called on during the climactic roll call and at first doesn't answer, the clerk repeats his name, at which point he responds "No". But in actual Senate practice a senator's name is not called a second time until after the initial roll call has been completed. See more »
[a boy is selling newspapers outside the U.S. Capitol, with the headline "Leffingwell Picked for Secretary of State"]
[to a customer]
[taking change from Danta]
Good morning, senator... thank you.
[Danta gets into a taxicab]
See more »
Preminger's masterpiece and one of the greatest of all American films and yet critical opinion is strongly divided on this one. Some people believe that the melodramatic elements of the plot, (homosexuality, blackmail, suicide), denigrates the film's authenticity and takes away from it as drama but the characters are so beautifully drawn, (and the performances of such a uniformly high standard), that the mechanics of the plot seem startlingly real. By being overt about homosexuality in 1962 the film broke new ground, though the gay characters, briefly seen, are cringe-worthy stereotypes.
What makes the film a masterpiece is Preminger's extraordinary mise-en-scene and possibly the best use of the widescreen for dramatic effect in any American movie. By keeping some characters on the periphery of the screen while the main characters in the scene interact in the foreground Preminger creates tensions and psychological relationships between them that cutting would only dissipate.
The plot centres on a dying President's controversial nomination of a left-wing Secretary of State. On the one hand, there are consequential melodramas inherent in pushing the plot forward, (the President's nomination is opposed; the politicians play dirty), while on the other is the almost documentary-like approach Preminger applies to the political machinations that take place on the floor of the senate and in the offices, houses and hotel-rooms where the characters live and work.
It is also the most entertaining of all political movies. (filmed luminously in black-and-white by Sam Leavitt it feels like a cracking film noir). The cast are matchless and many of them did their finest work here. This is particularly true of Walter Pigeon as the Majority Leader, (he's as decent and as noble as Ghandi), Franchot Tone as the President, Don Murray as the senator who is being blackmailed, (he was never to get a better part), Lew Ayres as the invisible Vice-President and Burgess Meredith as the mentally unstable witness, (it's a great cameo). Charles Laughton, too, gave a career-defining performance as the wily old senator whose opposition is the source of everyone's troubles, (it was his last film).
George Grizzard's character and performance is a mistake. He's the villain of the piece and he's demonic; he goes around spitting fire but he's a necessary evil. And the ending doesn't ring true; it's too convenient, a cop-out even if we are on the edge of our seat. But these are minor quibbles when everything else is so extraordinarily good. The script, by Wendell Mayes, is one of the great adaptations of a book, (even if it does reduce the roles of some characters and leaves out the back-fill). Amazingly, this great film wasn't nominated for a single Oscar. It rose above the brouhaha of the Academy.
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