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Film / The Senator Was Indiscreet

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The Senator Was Indiscreet (also known as Mr. Ashton Was Indiscreet) is a 1947 comedy directed by George S. Kaufman. It is a farce about politics.

U.S. Senator Melvin G. Ashton (William Powell) is a bumbling goof who, in spite of his brainless incompetence, wants to be President. Publicist Lew Gibson (Peter Lind Hayes) is well aware of his boss's incompetence but is pushing his boss's campaign to further his own ambition, much to the disgust of his girlfriend Poppy McNaughton (Ella Raines), a newspaper columnist. His own party, represented by boss Fred Houlihan (Ray Collins), doesn't want Ashton to run.

It so happens, however, that Ashton has kept a diary throughout his 35 years in politics, and said diary is chock full of incriminating material. Faced with this threat, Houlihan does an about-face and supports Ashton's campaign, and Ashton starts to climb in the polls. Poppy breaks up with Lew. Ashton returns to New York to make a big campaign speech at Madison Square Garden. However, after the speech he realizes that his diary — his extremely sensitive, incriminating diary — has been stolen. Panic breaks out as not just Ashton but all his party cronies realize they face disgrace and prison.


The only film ever directed by Kaufman, who's far better known for his hugely successful career as a playwright. This film, a silly comedy about politics, is very similar to Kaufman's Pulitzer Prize-winning theatrical comedy Of Thee I Sing. The screenplay was written by Charles MacArthur, best known for co-writing the much-filmed stage comedy The Front Page.

Look for Iron Eyes Cody, the Crying Indian himself, as one of the Native Americans meeting Ashton in the opening scene.



  • As You Know: Poppy provides some exposition when, while interviewing Ashton, she says "This is your first term in the Senate, isn't it?"
  • The Cameo: Myrna Loy pops up at the very end of the movie as Senator Ashton's previously unseen wife. It was the 14th and last film pairing of Powell and Loy, one of the most famous invokedThose Two Actors pairs in Hollywood history.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Ashton is seen writing in a diary early in the film, it's not hard to guess that it will be relevant to the plot.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: At the end newspaper boys are calling out the extra edition of the paper with the report about Ashton's diary.
  • The Ghost: Mrs. Ashton, whom Sen. Ashton calls on the phone multiple times and talks about a lot, but is not seen onscreen—until the end when she's revealed to be Myrna Loy.
  • I Have to Wash My Hair: Valerie Shepherd says she has to leave town, saying "my sister's very sick." The real reason is that she's the one who stole Ashton's diary.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Poppy, who is determined to bring Ashton the fraud down. She finally does when Lew's conscience gets to him and he hands over the diary.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Houlihan notes that Ashton's speech is an old one from December 6, 1941, and suggests that he take out the part where he mocks the idea of going to war with Japan.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: The last few seconds of the film have Mrs. Ashton, previously The Ghost, finally appear. She's played by William Powell's frequent co-star Myrna Loy.
  • The Mole: Valerie Shepherd, the pretty young lady who gets a job with the Ashton campaign and romances Lew. She turns out to be a spy sent by a political enemy of Ashton, and she steals his diary.
  • Newsreel: A fake newsreel dramatizes Senator Ashton's whistlestop tour around America. The narrator of the newsreel says "When in Hollywood, Senator Ashton had looked closely into the question of oil deposits and other natural resources," while the image actually shows him looking at the bottom of a scantily-clad chorus girl.
  • Noodle Incident: When Ashton reveals that he keeps a diary and has written everything he's done or heard about in it, a horrified Houlihan stammers " Boston?". When Ashton confirms that yes, he wrote about Boston, Houlihan gasps and says "But not like Denver?". Ashton wrote about Denver, too.
  • No Name Given: The one guy in the party entourage who seems to be some sort of black ops specialist. After the diary disappears he starts calling around all over the nation, telling corrupt party operatives what flights are leaving the country and what nations lack extradition treaties with the United States. He is never named and is listed in the credits as "You Know Who".
    "Theodore, this is you-know-who. We got a little situation here, and I want you to contact certain parties and tell 'em to stand by for a get-away. Better have their bags packed. Ready? Honest John McAfferty in Boston. Honest John Mancuso in Philadelphia. Honest John Mankiewicz in Pittsburgh. Major Culpepper in Richmond. Colonel Culpepper in Atlanta. Brig. Gen. Culpepper in New Orleans."
  • No Party Given: Ashton's party is never named.
  • Pig Latin: While Houlihan is at dinner, Ashton calls him, and attempts to tell him about the diary in Pig Latin. Houlihan says "Say, what are you, some kind of foreigner?", then covers the receiver and says to the other people at the table, "Sounds like a drunk with no teeth."
  • Politicians Kiss Babies: The film starts out with a dedication, which begins with "To every politician who has ever jeopardized a baby's health with unsanitary kisses...".
  • Sleazy Politician: Played for laughs, but apparently Ashton's whole party is filled with crooks. When Poppy publishes Ashton's incriminating diary, they all flee the country.
  • Spinning Paper: Spinning papers demonstrate that Ashton's non-denial denial of any interest in being president is big news.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Ashton, in his pajamas, dashes out an emergency exit—and finds himself on a platform of Grand Central Station. He has to walk back to the hotel and take an elevator back to his room, still clad in his pajamas, getting the side-eye from the other people in the elevator.