Saturday, April 6, 2013

Abraham Lincoln. B+

Interesting, three of the most influential American directors have tackled movies about Abraham Lincoln, John Ford with Young Mr. Lincoln, Spielberg with last year's Lincoln, and then this, Griffith's 1930 Abraham Lincoln. I love Spielberg's film, and I saw Ford's version when I was a kid, but need to refresh my memory of it. But really, the film's can't honestly be compared by their virtues simply because cinema in the 30s was so different than it is today. For starters, you'd never see a biopic of Lincoln's entire life run just 90 minutes today. But though it's not nearly long enough to leave a deep impact, Griffith did some amazing things with his interpretation. He takes special care during smaller moments in Lincoln's life, as when he fell in love with Ann Rutledge and lost her before they could marry. We see Lincoln then hesitating on his wedding day, knowing that he loves Mary Todd, but unable to shake Ann from his memory. Rather than showing us the wedding, Griffith has Lincoln alone in a room looking at a picture of his lost love and calling her name, as if to make one final attempt to bring her back. As Spielberg did so well in his version, Griffith wants Lincoln's hesitant, darker side to show. Griffith also shows great tenderness for his characters during what might be the best scene in the film when Robert E. Lee realizes that he will have to surrender and sheds a tear because he's letting his men down. Abraham Lincoln isn't much interested in either historical accuracy or details of the political jousting that went on during Lincoln's presidency. For the most part, we only get scenes of Lincoln calling out in a determined voice that the "Union must be preserved!" And for the sake of brevity it alters many important events, most glaringly when Lincoln gives a speech at the theater the night of his death and incorporates lines from the Gettysburg address. Other notables: Griffith is doing remarkable things with his camera for a 1930 movie. Also, Walter Huston makes a great Lincoln. 

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