Monday, October 15, 2012

What Happened in Hawaii?

The horizontal luau!

Otto Preminger's Advise & Consent is a stodgy 1962 political drama about the senate's Advise & Consent to the nomination of one Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) to Secretary of State. I'll save you the anguish - he doesn't get the post.

To finish the film, I had to watch it over the course of several nights. Otto Preminger does things like hold on the entire chamber's long applause until the very last clap, forces viewers to watch the car go all the way down the street, turn right, and pull up the driveway before the character gets out. It's like watching the opera - you just wanna put this crap on fast forward. Edit, honey.

But the best thing about this film? If you can get past the boredom, it's got so much to offer.  It marks the comeback (of sorts) of Gene Tierney. She gets a thankless role as Walter Pidgeon's lover - a far cry from her star-making turn in Preminger's Laura (1944) and I know electroshock therapy was a bummer, so it's good to see her back on screen - if looking worse for wear.
That's the curse of great beauty. Its bloom was only born to wither. Gene Tierney, in my books, was the greatest beauty of them all.
Charles Laughton as the grudge-bearing senior senator from South Carolina. What an excellent role, and it was his last. Laughton was dying from kidney cancer during production. Barely made the premiere.
The sad curse about ugly? Laughton once claimed, "I have a face like an elephants behind." Though no gay wants to claim him, Charles Laughton was homosexual. His widow, Elsa Lanchester, wrote about it in her memoirs. Elsa Lanchester, ironically, played the original "Bride of Frankenstein".

Advise & Consent is about the hunt for closet communists AND homosexuals. The senator in charge of the nomination committee and his wife are hounded by blackmailers who send photos of him with another man. "What happened in Hawaii?" and an accompanying letter he wrote to his former lover that apologizes..."It couldn't have happened were it not for war and exhaustion and loneliness!" In the midst of the blackmail, he goes to find his former lover who was paid to rat him out - and we see the first post-war gay bar on screen.  Soon after, our closeted gay commits suicide. Blame the loneliness!

Interestingly, this movie - taken from a Pulitzer-prize winning book - is taken from the real case of a Wyoming senator, Lester C. Hunt, who was blackmailed for his gay son. His son and namesake was caught soliciting "lewd and immoral acts" with an undercover cop, and the senator... an arch rival of McCarthy's witchhunts... was threatened with a smear campaign. Instead of facing that family shame - he killed himself.

In the film, which in the end has nothing to do with the nomination of Robert Leffingwell and everything to do with backroom shade.... Walter Pidgeon confronts the blackmailer -

Senator: "The senate often tolerates prejudice and demagoguery, but you've dishonored us."
Blackmailer: "What I did, I did for the good of our country."
Senator:"Fortunately, our country has always survived 'patriots' like you."

But what's the GAYEST thing about Advise & Consent? The adorable senator from Kansas:
BETTY WHITE!

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