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Lincoln in the White House (1939)
*** (out of 4)
Technicolor short showing Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, Sr.) taking office and leading up to his Gettysburg Address. This film runs just twenty-minutes so it doesn't have time to go into great detail but I thought it did a pretty good job and I'm sure those unfamiliar with these events would find this very entertaining. The Technicolor really adds a lot to the film and makes it stand out compared to other films and shorts from this era that took a look at the President. McGlynn seems to split opinions on his performance but I enjoyed it for the most part. I think he has some very awkward moments but I found most to these to be in his movements. The first time we see Lincoln and several scenes afterwards it appears the actor is walking around so stiff that the character had suffered a stroke. Dickie Moore does a nice job as Lincoln's son. Character actor John Harron co-stars.
"Any idealism is a proper subject for art." Lafcadio Hearn
One of the most cherished figures of the American history, Abraham Lincoln, has appeared to be a truly unique and powerful character for the screen. D.W. Griffith, among others, had directed the motion picture with Walter Huston. Along with the emergence of Technicolor and some greatest productions of the late 1930s, there was a need for pictures meant not merely to entertain but, as the prologue in William C. McGann's film says, to remind Americans of 'the magnificent heritage to preserve.' Therefore, the idea of this short little picture (running sole 20 minutes), seemingly the studio's bonus entertainment for a night at Warner Brothers, has remained something filled with many idealistic notions and wordy pompous clichéd script. But aren't the words by Lafcadio Hearn quoted at the beginning really adequate? Isn't art open to any idealism? Especially when relying on some important moments in history to lift up people's hearts? Let us focus on the main figure, the main hero of this picture: Abraham Lincoln. LINCOLN IN THE WHITE HOUSE, Lincoln as the President of the United States...what is he like in this picture? Who is the man who helped the union stay alive?
Initiated by strong patriotism and the adequate material in this respect, the film relies strongly on the definition of an 'upright man, straightforward leader, perfect father, moral diplomat and a saint-like believer,' who counts on individual freedom and revels in it. That is how Frank McGlynn portrays Abraham Lincoln. Much glory and little psychology! Something on the verge of propaganda! And yet...he is so deadly sympathetic as a genuine honest husband and a father who keeps the flame of family's union. He is ready for a little laughter, a calm, restrained companion and friend of the people whom Almighty God has created equal. He is a man who understands others' sorrows better than his own and aids desperate Mrs Scott (Sybil Harris), the father who teaches his son Tad (Dickie Moore) to be a good soldier and a good guard.' Primarily, however, he is a 'father' of one nation tormented by divisions and war. He is the President who keeps the flag waving and the flame of union's heritage intact. His remarks are loving and 'delicatory.' He is an example to follow, masterpiece of mankind. Even visually, he is the tallest of all. Although his policy is considered as 'suicidal' by some of the fellow politicians, he understands that the nation is one and he must care for all, though 'they believe in their cause as we believe in ours.' This perception of one nation is executed in one of the scenes when Lincoln wants the band to play the famous song 'Dixie', the purely southern song. Paradoxically for the time, clichés are broken - a 'Yankee' listens to 'Dixie' with enthusiasm and a tear in the eye... It is said that Lincoln lives in torment but, psychologically, we cannot see it. Naturally, what can you develop in a 20 minute-production? Frank McGlynn does his best in overacting and although he has some nice scenes with Dickie Moore as his son, the general result is rather unconvincing for a modern viewer. Not a very good performance.
In sum, the little film such as LINCOLN IN THE WHITE HOUSE is does not appear as entirely dated. Though its mighty 'fine' idealism is surely exaggerated, the Technicolor pluses and some little moments make for quite amusing twenty minutes. But history lesson? Forget it here! Look elsewhere! 5/10
Character actor Frank McGlynn, Sr. had a cottage industry of his own
going with portraying Abraham Lincoln. Scroll down the list of his
credits and you'll see what I mean.
Of course we get a history cardboard cutout, we don't get much more out of this short than the exhibit at Disney World. The film ends with Lincoln at Gettysburg and McGlynn recreating Lincoln's most famous speech of all.
Stripped from the myth, Abraham Lincoln was the guy who preserved the United States in being and freed this country from the stigma of slavery, nothing more, nothing less. It took a lot of lives to accomplish this, something he brooded on every minute of the slightly four plus years he occupied the White House. Had he not won the Civil War for the Union and preserved the USA in being, we would be in a much worse world than we are, no doubt in my mind about it.
The part I liked best in this was the human side of Lincoln with McGlynn comforting his son Tad played by Dickie Moore. Tad was one of two sons that survived him, his other son Robert was off at Harvard during most of the war. Lincoln was one of several presidents who buried children while in the White House, son Willie died the year before. The bond between Abe and Tad was something special after that as this short so clearly shows.
Lincoln In The White House is still a good teaching tool, but really only for the elementary school.
This short gives Honest Abe the typical Hollywood treatment: deep voice (Lincoln actually had a high-pitched voice), broad theatrical motions when giving speeches, and every line out of his mouth is basically an historical sound-bite from his best speeches. Interesting as a curiosity (how people viewed Lincoln on the eve of WW II), but don't expect to learn anything about Lincoln (or history in general) from watching it.
First of all, FRANK McGLYNN is not the best choice to play the lanky
president who gave the Gettysburg Address after the Civil War changed
American politics forever.
He's excessively hammy, especially when speech-making, and bears only a slight resemblance to Honest Abe.
NANA BRYANT as Mrs. Lincoln is much too sensible and natural looking for the role. However, DICKIE MOORE is effective as Tad, the ill-fated youngest son who is gravely ill when Lincoln leaves his Washington, D.C. residence to deliver the Gettysburg Address, against his wife's wishes.
All of the usual facts are stated briefly so that it's really a very compressed look at American history, but probably suitable for young viewers who are just learning about the period.
Words like "strong union," "keep the flag flying," "freedom to slaves," "footsteps in the snow at Valley Forge," etc., give the documentary some talking points that are only able to hint at the overall facts.
Might have been more commanding with a better actor as Lincoln, it seems rather ordinary in its treatment of subject matter.
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