Sep 24, 2012

Advise and Consent



I just saw Advise and Consent (1961), the first Hollywood movie to mention gay people openly (almost). It's about the appointment of a new Secretary of State, Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda). The Senate has to vote to "consent" to the appointment.

But when evidence surfaces that Leffingwell attended meetings of the Communist party years ago, Senator Brigham Anderson (Don Murray), a young, wholesome "family man," leads a committee to refuse their "consent."  Then Anderson starts receiving telephone calls ordering him to report favorably on Leffingwell, or they will reveal an incriminating letter and photo about a long-ago romance with a man.

It's all very convoluted, with plots and subplots, schemes and counterschemes, and so many characters that you need a score card, not to mention interminable Senate roll calls.  The only interesting plot point is the parallel drawn between Leffingwell's dalliance with Communism and  Anderson's gay relationship, both "mistakes" that could ruin the men's lives.

Anderson tries to track down his ex-lover (thinking that he is the blackmailer), and finds himself in a gay bar full of pomaded, dissolute types who all leer lasciviously, ready to pounce on the straight guy.  When the bartender calls "Come on in!" in a cheery voice, we're expected to shudder in dread.  And of course, the "Hollywood queer" must always die; Anderson kills himself.

Oddly, the movie was controversial in 1961 because it was so liberal, criticizing the anti-Communist witch hunts and suggesting that married men might be "that way"!  There were several gay actors playing witch hunters, including Will Geer and Charles Laughton.

At least we get a nice beefcake shot of the hirsute Don Murray, standing in front of a mirror, confronting his demons.

Don Murray appeared in many other movies and tv series, and often found himself required to take baths or change clothes on camera.  He seems rather skinny by today's standards, but in the 1960s his lithe, firm physique was all the rage.