Behind the Scenes – “Advise and Consent” (1962)

Just before setting off to film Exodus (1960), director Otto Preminger ponied up $200,000 for the rights to Allen Drury’s inflammatory novel three months after publication. He expected to place the picture with United Artists, with whom he was in partnership over Exodus, but perhaps his remuneration package was too high, for Advise and Consent ended up at Columbia.

Preminger postponed shooting of Bunny Lake Is Missing in order to start on Advise and Consent. But filming of the former was in part delayed due to pregnancy of the proposed female lead Lee Remick.

When Wendell Mayes script was submitted in July 1961 to the Production Code for approval, the main issue under discussion was the treatment of homosexuality, and as a consequence some scenes were trimmed or treated in a different manner. In fact, Preminger was more explicit than the novel about same-sex relationships. The Code approved the production with changes on the basis that a revision of the current system was imminent. Preminger was turned down by a number of well-known actors because of this aspect of Brig’s character, before eventually turning to Don Murray.

As mentioned in the review yesterday, Preminger hired actors who had long been out of the business. The blacklisted Will Geer hadn’t made a film in over a decade, Franchot Tone had not been seen on screen since 1951 when he had been involved in love triangle, for Lew Ayres it was nearly a decade, while Gene Tierney, who had been institutionalized, had last made a picture in 1955. Martin Luther King was offered the role of a Georgia senator.

Astonishingly since the book and film had taken pot shots at the American political system, beginning late September 1961, Preminger was granted permission to shoot in the Senate, taking over the Russell Senate State building, with the Senate Caucus Room used for the sub-committee rooms. To cut down on shooting time, Preminger often filmed with two cameras and finished filming after two or three takes.  Preminger was racing through shooting in order to release the film in December in the hope of snagging Oscar nominations.

Filming lasted barely three months in total, beginning September 5 and ending on . the early scenes shot included the sequences in Munson’s hotel room (filmed at the Sheraton Park hotel), the White House correspondents’ dinner (the ballroom of the same hotel) and Dolly’s party (at Tregaron, a private residence once owned by joseph A. Davies, an ambassador to the Soveiet Union.

Understandably nervous after such a long time away from filming, and probably doubly nervous to be working with a director known for his titanic rages, Gene Tierney, “though just frightened to death” received nothing but gentlemanly treatment. Franchot Tone, on the other hand, was reduced to tears. Don Murray only once felt the sharp end of the Preminger tongue, but other found that he could manage the director as long as he did not show a weakness. However, Preminger did disparage cinematographer Sam Leavitt and actor Larry Tucker, apparently to demonstrate his fiery side for visiting journalists, fired three crewmen. Arguments with unions set the production back $150,000-$200,000.

Away from the set, Peter Lawford’s involvement in the picture apparently drew the ire of President John F. Kennedy. The Press had a field day after “word leaked out.” There was also concern about Gene Tierney’s role as a society hostess.

Possibly aware of the changing mood in the critical world, Preminger had invited Jean Domarchi of Cahiers du Cinema to observe the shooting.

By the time the film was being prepped for released, Allen Drury’s novel had spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and the author had won the Pulitzer Prize. Drury hated what Preminger had done to this novel, got his revenge by delaying the film’s release. A stage version of the book was not going to complete its run until June 1962 and Drury applied for – and won – an injunction to prevent the film opening before then. Preminger had been aware of the problem and had attempted, while the movie was in the first month of filming, to exploit a legal loophole to allow the movie to be shown in December. (Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder in 1954 had suffered the same fate). This also put the blocks on RCA Victor’s plans to release a soundtrack album – “for minutes of music…no vocals.”

Sources: Chris Fujiwara, The World and its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger, Faber and Faber 2008, p280-289; Mark Shives, “Otto Preminger on Advise and Consent,” Movie 4, p26-27; Jean Domarchi, “Voyage a Washington,” Cahiers du Cinema 22, p28-30; “Code Seal to Advise and Consent,” Box Office, December 18, 1961, p8; “Preminger Postpones One; To Start on Advise,” Box Office; January 12, 1961, p23; “Otto Preminger’s Advise Transferred to Columbia,” Box Office, August 14, 1961, p10; “Bunny Lake Is Delayed; Prem Moves Up Casting of Advise and Consent,” Variety, June 7, 1961, p18; “Consent Pic Delay Stalls Victor album,” Variety, December 27, 1961, p39; “Lew Ayres into Consent, He and Tierney on Comeback Trail,” Variety, August 16, 1961, p20; “Is JFK Miffed About Lawford Role Or Is It More Pic Ballyhoo?,” Variety, August 30, 1961, p2; “Report Preminger Seeks Early Release of Advise,” Variety, October 11, 1961, p69.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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