With his scathing masterpiece Advise and Consent, Otto Preminger indicts the whole Washington political machine with a great sense of subtlety and purpose. It’s one of the only Preminger’s I’ve seen, with maybe the exception of Laura, that doesn’t get bogged down at least for a while in deadly monotonous melodrama, and the end result captivates on a number of different levels.
Advise and Consent begins as a mosaic of the D.C. ecosystem, following Senators of both parties (Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon) as they prepare to debate the President’s confirmation of a new Secretary of State (Henry Fonda). Surface-level public procedure swiftly turns into back door wheeling and dealing, illuminating a brutal underbelly of devastating character assassinations, blackmail, and moral ambiguity.
But Preminger never hammers these harsh realities into stone with oratory speeches or grand actions of principle. His brilliant use of the tracking shot allows the narrative to flow along seamlessly behind the characters, one step from realization, yet unable to grasp the ramifications until it’s too late. Even though there’s one heavy in the film, the greatest villain of Advise and Consent remains the compromise of personal identity.
Both Fonda’s left-leaning nominee and Don Murray’s tragic Senator Anderson become victims when the consequences of the past come back to destroy the present. The Capital building acts as a breeding ground for these situations, an elegant bubble blocked from the rest of the world in order to keep the machine running. But the process works, or at least Preminger has faith that it does, and so the gripping finale provides a comeuppance for everyone involved. As a timely precipice on the compromises of Democracy, Advise and Consent will only become more relevant over time.
Heralded by many as Preminger’s best film, but I’m not buying it on first glance. As a Melodrama, Daisy Kenyon is almost completely contained and dependent on its shifting love triangle (between the great Joan Crawford, Dana Andrews, and Henry Fonda), a critical problem considering how benign the entire affair becomes. Maybe I prefer my Melodrama with some sort of subtext, something Daisy Kenyon skirts around, even during its final scene where Daisy must decide between the two suitors. Ultimately, her feeble decision only undermines the very idea of female individuality Preminger seems to be obsessed with.
Robert Mitchum’s ambulance driver Frank Jessup immediately knows why Jean Simmons’ young Diane Tremayne wants his care and affection, making Otto Preminger’s Angel Face an intriguing Noir from the start. Unlike many other Noir’s, which show their working class hero getting duped by the sexuality of a wealthy socialite for criminal purposes, Preminger gives us these two complex characters who knowingly commit to the dangers involved. The director highlights Frank’s inability to permanently dissuade his femme fatale and Diane’s childish outlook on life, which comes crashing down after her brutal intentions are realized. Angel Face is a suprising and unassuming mood piece, cleverly twisting stylistic conventions time and again. A few examples; Simmons’ has brown hair while Mitchum’s homely love interest is the blond, while the “evil” stepmother Diane hates really isn’t that bad in the first place, creating a series of opposite “doubles” which transcend Noirish norms. Mitchum’s keenness toward the dangerous situation pushes Angel Face into a realm of psychological angst more forlorn and ambitious than many films of the like, making him a more reflexive Noir hero and an even stranger tragedy in the end.