Sunday, September 27, 2009

Abraham Lincoln (DW Griffith) *1/2

Director: DW Griffith

Cast: Walter Huston, Una Merkel, Ian Keith, Kay Hammond

Background: DW Griffith is one of the most notable filmmakers in history. He got his start as far back as 1908, and directed many classics during the silent era such as Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, and Way Down East. This would be his first sound film.

Story: A biopic about the life of Abraham Lincoln (Huston), following his early romance with Ann Rutledge (Merkel) and his later Presidency and management of the Civil War.

Thoughts: Griffith was of course a legendary silent director able to paint considerable tragedy on to a large canvas and basically invented modern film structure. He was a director ahead of his time. That's why it's so shocking that here he appears to be a director way behind his time. This Lincoln biopic is told with little passion or wit. Hell, most of the second half of the movie is Lincoln sitting still waiting for battle reports. Sure, there are a few Civil War battle scenes at the end, but they certainly don't measure up to the fascinating large scale scenes Griffith has supplied us in the past. Aside from Griffith's uninspired direction, the biggest problem is Walter Huston's portrayal of the title character. Lincoln was one of the most charismatic presidents in history, but Huston plays him as a simple folksy guy thrust into a major role. He brings absolutely no gravitas to the role, and the considerable wit that Lincoln displayed throughout his Presidency is also missing.

Postscript: The film was not very successful and Griffith would only make one more sound film before retiring for good.

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