Friday, December 07, 2001


This was one of D. W. Griffith's last movies, and according to the reference books, his most successful talkie. It was a tedious affair, presented more like a string of historical tableaux from Lincoln's life, with no strong connecting thread. In terms of presentation, it reminded me of a high school play/pageant. Famous characters were introduced with dialogue like, "Oh, Mary Todd, come here," or "Why that's John Wilkes Booth, the actor!" Although there was occasionally some inventive camerawork (the opening shot reminded me of the opening of Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES, with its moving camera and miniature sets), most of the dialogue scenes were quite static and either underacted or overacted.

Walter Huston was actually quite good as Lincoln; he gave the part some earthiness and vigor, something I recall being missing from Raymond Massey's more famous portrayal. His best scene was when he pardons a soldier who has been sentenced to death for cowardice. Una Merkel has a small part as Ann Rutledge, Lincoln's first love--she has two brief scenes before she dies. Of historical significance is the fact that Jason Robards Sr. has a small part (one scene, a couple of lines). Otherwise, I think you can skip this one. The print I saw was terrible--murky, with lots of cuts and lots of noise. It was probably a public domain print, although I believe a restored version has been released on tape and laserdisc.

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