"Advise and Consent" - book and film (SPOILERS)

What with having a lot of time on my hands between calls at work and under threat not to use the internet, and partially inspired by the “gay characters in books” thread, I re-read Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent this week. I’ve had the movie on tape for a long while but never got around to watching it all the way through so I watched it after finishing the book.

Anyone else up for a discussion of the book or movie? I have a lot of thoughts on the topic but I don’t want to spend forever typing them out only to have the thread sink like a rock for lack of interest.

Sure. It was a better book than a movie, though.

I got this for Christmas, as part of the Controversial Classics collection. I’ll be watching it early next week.

I read the book too, but it was so long ago, I don’t remember anything about it.

I’ve never seen the movie, but I used to love the book, many years ago. It kind of got retroactively spoiled for me, though, by the horrible sequels. I would probably be up for a discussion, time permitting.

Re the book:

The time that anything approaching the events of the book are long past. The tales of the nomination fight on the floor of (what would have to be) the 1952 convention? Would never happen. The stage managers would never allow it, even if the primary system did. Senators from the President’s party, the majority party, defyinh the President and blocking the nomination? Can you conceive of any current Republican Senator breaking with Bush and opposing a Cabinet nominee?

The torture of Brigham Anderson chokes me up every time I read it. Drury’s revelation of his same-sex affair was so subtle, I wonder if people reading it back in the day figured out what was going on. Once it’s made apparent, though, the slow tightening of the noose around Brig’s neck is so vividly drawn that it’s uncomfortable to read. The destruction of Fred Van Ackerman is an amazing set piece.

Re the movie:

Absolutely, it wasn’t anywhere near the book. Of necessity it was stripped of its bulk, and it suffered from not having the Soviet threat hovering in the background (although maybe at the time it was made said threat was just assumed in any political drama). But without the concern over appeasement, without COMFORT and without the threat of a war in space, not to mention that the office of Secretary of State was vacant because of a death in the movie instead of having with it the fears from the book, a lot of the dramatic tension was gone and the movie became more of a procedural. The destruction of Fred Van Ackerman was almost completely absent from the film. Having Leffingwell confess to the President and seek to withdraw was a terrible choice. It made Leffingwell come off as way too, I don’t know, morally upright and it moved the President from being a shrewd but morally compromised man to being just flat-out evil.

Some of the casting is just terrible. Henry Fonda is completely wrong for Leffingwell and Walter Pidgeon is completely wrong for Bob Munson. Swap them and they’d be better. The guy playing Orrin Knox would have been terrible, had Knox’s role in the movie been anything approaching his role in the book. I don’t really care for Peter Lawford in anything. Charles Laughton, however, was created to play old Southern Senators.

There were sequels? I had no idea.

Yeah, a bunch of them. It was actually a six book series consisting of:

Advise and Consent
A Shade of Difference
Preserve and Protect
Capable of Honor
Come Nineveh, Come Tyre/The Promise of Joy

Come Nineveh, Come Tyre and the Promise of Joy take place at the same time. Capable of Honor ends on a cliffhanger where two people get killed (but he doesn’t tell you who), and Promise of Joy and Come Nineveh, Come Tyre each start with the assumption that it was a different two people.

The later books weren’t bad, they were just really polemical. Drury was really anti-communist, and took the idea that 1960 liberalism and the 1960 press were Soviet dupes, in their criticism of US foreign policy (like Vietnam), their support for anti-colonization movements, and their attempt to say the US and Soviet Union were morally equivalent.

But back to the book and the movie, something I found interesting was that Brig Anderson’s same sex affair was treated a with lot more sympathy in the book than in the movie. In the book, the affair, and Anderson’s same-sex orientation was seen as as a minor flaw in an otherwise good man that, because of the climate of the time and the ruthlessness of his political opponents, destroyed him. It’s treated a lot more harshly in the film.

For example, there’s a scene both in the book and the film where Anderson confronts the man he had an affair with in Hawaii. In both cases, the guy begs him for forgiveness. In the book, the confrontation happens over the phone, and Anderson forgives the guy and tells him he still loves him. In the movie, it takes place outside the 1960s portrayal of a “gay bar”, and it ends with Anderson pushing the guy, knocking him over, and running away.

The book is surprisingly nuanced. Fred Van Ackerman is just totally evil and crazy, but everyone else is a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, and their actions mix principle and self-interest in a delicate fashion (one of the things I dislike about the sequels is how this nuance disappears, along with any sense of how the system actually works.)

I thought the gay affair aspect was amazingly well handled. It was taken as given that it would destroy a politician’s career, indeed, his whole life, yet there was never any sense that Brig was a bad man for what he had done, and all the anger is against those who used it against him.

In some ways I liked the descriptions of the ordinary work of the Senate better than the high drama. I was young when I read it, and it was a revelation that so much of life even in places of power was so routine and governed by rules.

I must say in restrospect though, that it was probably a bit anachronistic even at the time. For example, the Vice President is shown as routinely presiding over the Senate. Was that still true as late as the 50’s?

Weird that this is out of print. I took a copy out of the library last year but never got around to reading it. Should I scare up a paperback copy at the used bookshop – is it worth owning? – or just go back to the library?

I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the movie on teevee, so I should really rent that as well. I’ll watch anything with Laughton in it.

I’d say it’s worth owning if you don’t pay too much for it. I did think a new edition was released a few years ago, though. You might also want to check out his “Pentagon”, which was pretty good.

I’d agree that it’s worth owning, in an inexpensive copy. There must be tons of decent used copies around.

I read Advise and Content many decades ago, so I don’t remember many details, but I do recall that it was one of my favorite books at the time, a seemingly serious and real look at Washington politics. (In retrospect, it shares the fault of many of the political novels of the time, not noticing that television and the primary system had changed everything. Virtually every big political novel of the day revolves around a suspenseful last-minute convention battle for the presidency, something that had long since disappeared. The events of the 1960s just about killed the political novel genre. They still exist but the books are no longer serious reading. Only non-fiction about politics can convey the unreality of it.)

Which made Drury’s decent into conservative paranoia and fear-mongering all the harder to take in the later books. Isn’t A Shade of Difference the one about the U.N.? If so, the plot of the book is the horror shown by everyone involved when the U.S. - gasp - invokes its first veto at the Security Council. (Of course, nobody in the world noticed when the U.S. finally did this in real life.) The next books would get even worse. To be sure, I was a bit too young to read them as they appeared, so I caught up with them during the Nixon administration, which made any notion of principled conservatism an obscenity. But they also are exemplars of the difference between drama and melodrama.

If I were you, Otto, I’d stick with Advise and Consent and pretend that the others never existed.

And thank you all for not writing “Advice” and Consent as all too many do.

Woo hoo…you gotta get yourself some Ross Thomas. (Okay, he’s a political thriller writer, so you may not consider him serious, but he’s still damn good.)

The Money Harvest, for starters, or maybe Twilight at Mac’s Place.

I’ve read lots of Ross Thomas. The books he writes are just nothing like the standard political novel of the 1960s. And thrillers are a totally different genre as well, since he isn’t a standard thriller writer either.

The first portrayal of an identified gay bar in an American film. Reading about that scene in Vito Russo’s book The Celluloid Closet is what got me interested in the movie, although I read the book many years before I had access to the film.

[Rube E. Tewesday]I must say in restrospect though, that it was probably a bit anachronistic even at the time. For example, the Vice President is shown as routinely presiding over the Senate. Was that still true as late as the 50’s?

Whether it was or not, I got the sense that the President had so shut Harley out of any role in the administration that Harley presided over the Senate because he had nothing else to do with his time.

The convention fight told of in flashback in the book would have been from 1952, seven years prior to the Leffingwell battle; had TV and the primary system streamlined things at that time to the point where there couldn’t have been the uncertainty?

Actually, the 1952 Democratic convention was wide open, with a lot of backroom dealing (Stevenson didn’t get enough votes until the third ballot), and the Republican convention saw a big delegate credential fight between Eisenhower and Taft. If Eisenhower hadn’t managed to successfully challenge Taft’s delegates, that would have been an open convention too.

Not that it matters much, but I always had the idea that they were looking back at the 1960 convention – that the book was kind of an alternative history version of what could happen after Ike. For one thing, it was pretty clear that the President’s party was the Democrats, and I seem to remember that when the President is thinking back on the risky actions of his predecessors, one of them was Eisenhower’s sending Marines to Lebanon.

I don’t remember anything in A&C about Eisenhower. Given Brig’s age and the timeline given for his political career, it seems impossible that the novel could be set 20+ years after the end of WW2.

Real life parallels to Drury’s Senate from this guy’s website.

And checking out the website, it looks like it could be set in 1957 or 1967 – Drury obviously hasn’t sweated the details too much.