Extremely talky political melodrama at its most middling. I rather enjoyed some of the machinations exposed in this story (based on a Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Allan Drury, who was inspired by the suicide of Lester Hunt during the McCarthy era) of the Senate approval of a Secretary of State nominee during the Cold War, but Machiavellian power-dealing only took the movie so far before it slid into a gay blackmail story rather typical for the era, at least in terms of gay stories that explicitly appeared in mainstream film in the early sixties.
This one ends, quite predictably, in a suicide, a rather grisly one at that, signaling a finish to a movie that had already run its course. The gay twist did give the film its more lively scenes (viewable here) as the blackmailed senator, Don Murray, visits New York to track down his former male lover.
First, he has a testy encounter with an obese homosexual in a fabulous studio apartment packed with knick-knacks, frilly pillows, fluffy cats, and an always-in-focus double bed meant to increase our discomfort.
Then, the senator visits a gay club, a very brief scene that at the time must have been meant to both titillate and repulse, but has now morphed into sheer camp. Entrance to the bar (with Sinatra on the jukebox!) is like a descent into an underworld or into just plain hell, depending on your personal perspective. In either case, it is the senator’s downfall.
The performances are fairly good (listen for Betty White’s unmistakable voice as she addresses her fellow senators), but no standouts really, save for possibly Charles Laughton’s slimy Southern Joseph McCarthy stand-in. The characters are credibly written, yet as the film concluded, I didn’t particularly care about anyone’s fate, or whether the nominee, an under-used Henry Fonda, was approved or not, because the film failed to ignite any passion in its storyline.
Preminger depended on a deeply personal counterpoint to all the political wheeling and dealing to arise with the blackmail story, evidenced by the saccharine scenes of domestic bliss before the Gay Tragedy. But this side of the tale never punches through, buried too deep under the treacle of Mayes’ script and a contemporary sense of camp, resulting in a full-scale flop for an attempted humanist drama.