Washington Story (1952): Pirosh’s Political Melodrama, Starring Van Johnson and Patricia Neal

Robert Pirosh directed Washington Story, a romantic melodrama about a reporter investigating government corruption who falls for a congressman, starring Van Johnson and Patricia Neal.

Our Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

On her first trip to Washington, D.C., aspiring reporter Alice Kingsley is shown around by Gilbert Nunnally, a successful radio commentator. Nunnally has a cynical view of the Capitol–he believes that every politician can be bought.

In order to find out, Alice chooses a young Massachusetts congressman with a squeaky-clean image, Joe Gresham. Joe is wary of the press and makes a call to check her credentials, but Alice, having anticipated this, gives him a number for Nunnally, who pretends to be the reporter’s editor and vouches for her.

Alice is impressed by Joe’s work ethic and personality. She wonders if veteran politician Charles Birch is a corrupting influence, only to learn that Birch has been a mentor to Joe and is greatly admired.

Nunnally persuades Alice that something is going on between Joe and a lobbyist named Phil Emery, who is trying to get Joe’s key vote for a bill to pass. Joe is more concerned about its effect on his own constituents than its greater impact. Alice isn’t sure what to make of that, or of Joe’s seeming disinterest in an elderly immigrant’s possible deportation.

Colleagues in Congress applaud Joe after he has a change of heart about the bill. Alice is now persuaded by Nunnally that he sold his vote for a price. She is made aware by Birch that the reason for Joe’s attitude toward the press is that he has a libel suit pending against Nunnally in two weeks’ time. Nunnally confronts the congressman and offers to suppress the story about Joe selling his vote if the lawsuit is dropped. Joe punches him instead.

Alice runs into the immigrant, who tells her how Joe went to great effort making sure he could remain in the country. Alice also learns that Joe had a change of heart about the bill.

In the happy ending, Alice writes a praising column about Joe, and the couple realize they’re in love.

Made on a budget of $1.4 million, the movie was a commercial flop, earning only $684,000.

Van Johnson as Joe Gresham
Patricia Neal as Alice Kingsley
Louis Calhern as Birch
Philip Ober as Nunnally
Sidney Blackmer as Emery
Elizabeth Patterson as Miss Dee


Directed by Robert Pirosh
Produced by Dore Schary
Written by Robert Pirosh
Music by Conrad Salinger
Cinematography: John Alton
Edited by John Durant
Distributed by MGM

Release date: July 1, 1952


I am grateful to TCM for showing this feature on January 14, 2020.