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This is really a great movie. I've been trying to track it down for
years and just found it on the Fox Movie Channel last night. The script
is well written and for a Hollywood bio-pic it is pretty historically
accurate. I thought Knox was excellent as Wilson and wished he had done
more high profile movies. And I was also very impressed by the high
Don't know how much Zanuck spent on it but it was all up there on the screen. The Technicolor of those times is always lovely to look at too. Of course it came out in the middle of World War II, so a slight excess of flag-waving is to be expected. And any cast of supporting actors that runs the gamut from Thomas Mitchell to Vincent Price can't be all bad either. An altogether entertaining top quality movie.
Woodrow Wilson was not considered a very successful President before he
was "rehabilitated" by FDR during World War II as part of a campaign to
show the mistakes the US had made a generation before. This film's
glorification of Wilson was clearly part of that war propaganda effort.
Alexander Knox is perfectly cast in this effort, he physically looks just right, and has all the mannerisms. Of course the character is shifted from the reality (a stunningly racist, intellectually isolated scholar) to a "pre-FDR" who talks of "all races working together" and whose every motive is pure and well thought out. The Wilson of this film is pure hero, and always right, if shown as a touch stubborn.
But I was engaged despite it all. And the 1912 Convention scenes early in the film are brilliantly done. Check out Vincent Price as a campaign lieutenant. And Cedric Hardwicke is great as the villainous Republican Henry Cabot Lodge.
If you want to dramatize Wilson's life, you can either approach it as either
a tragedy or a hagiography, and Fox chose the hagiographic route.
Considering the era and that the only biography at the time was the
uncritical one by Ray Standard Baker, this is hardly surprising. Thank God,
however, they cast the unknown Alexander Knox rather than an established
star such as Gary Cooper for the title character; when you see the film you
can't imagine anyone else playing the part.
This movie proves that the Hollywood era could do films with some integrity beyond the standard fare from MGM or Warners. Twentieth-Century Fox's Zanuck was the only mogul who had the guts to make a motion picture as expensive as this, with an unknown in the lead, and on a President who, unlike say Teddy Roosevelt, strikes many people as a cold fish. I love this film, despite its simplifying of history and its wartime propaganda because it's very special in many ways. There are plenty of movies like JEFFERSON IN PARIS or YOUNG MR. LINCOLN or ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS or THE PRESIDENT'S LADY etc., but aside from NIXON, Zanuck and King's WILSON seems the only theatrical film that dramatizes a President's life while he served in office. For those of you who find it undramatic, think again: it's a film to cherish
Let us be certain of one thing: Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924),
Academician, Historian, Orator, President of Princeton University,
of New Jersey, and 28th President of the United States is a very important
political figure in American History. He is usually credited to be one of
the top ten great Presidents of our history, but these lists of historians
are prone to change when new research shows previous ideas were wrong or
hagiographic towards the former President. In Wilson's case historians of
his period are confronted with the problem that he had a great
rival, the 26th President Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. Both men at their
best were terrific figures, who accomplished a great deal of positive
legislation (they and Robert LaFollette dominate this period: the
Progressive Era), and both (with Roosevelt's predecessor William McKinley)
made America a great power. But T.R. and W.W. were both great egotists,
had defects in personality and views that make their achievements
questionable. T.R. loved the strenuous life, but he also loved war too
- to the point that his youngest son got sacrificed in France in the First
World War. Wilson helped get the Clayton Anti-Trust Act and the Federal
Reserve set up, but he was a
Southerner who backed Jim Crow Laws. He did try to keep America out
World War I (as a boy he lived in Virginia and South Carolina during the
Civil War, and saw Columbia, South Carolina destroyed - probably by
Sherman's men). But he was willing to use our troops to "straighten out"
Latin American countries: Mexico (twice), Haiti, the Dominican Republic.
His creation of the first international peace organization, the League of
Nations, was great, but flawed due to the U.S. not becoming a member - a
flaw that Wilson's egotistic fight with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge over
accepting the Treaty of Versailles guaranteed.
This film was made in 1944 by Zanuck, a Democrat. It emphasized Wilson as the far-sighted peace seeker, the forerunner of FDR (who was planning the United Nations). FDR actually was in Wilson's administration (he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, like his cousin TR had been in 1897 under McKinley). The audience of the time would have been aware of this. As most of the audience would be white, Protestant, and of anglo-saxon background, it would be assumed that the film would be well received. Actually it wasn't. In the midwest, with the heavy connections to Germany or Middle-Europe, and in Irish-American centers (Wilson was cool towards Irish nationalism)the audiences recalled the unpleasant intransigence and pig-headedness of the President. Zanuck had the film opened in his home town in Nebraska, only to find that few were interested in the premier of the film - they told him they had not liked Wilson while he was in office.
As it is the film is excellent in terms of production and cast, starting with Alexander Knox as the President. His is a great performance, which merited his Oscar nomination. But the film is only positive about Wilson (and correspondingly unfair to Lodge, who may have had doubts about the Treaty of Versailles, but was not conspiring to destroy Wilson - he only had to let Wilson do himself in!). As for the racist side of Wilson, to get a glimpse of it see THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, where the Wilson administration is determined to drive the black heavyweight champion (based on Jack Johnson, and played by James Earl Jones) out of the title he deserves to keep.
I don't know how many modern-day film viewers would sit through this
long a biography (154 minutes) of a fairly boring man but it moves
pretty well and is generally entertaining account of our 28th U.S.
President, Woodrow Wilson.
When I watched this, I was unfamiliar with the lead actor, Alexander Knox, and I still am! However, he did a fine job as Wilson. The supporting cast did have some "names," such as Charles Coburn, Thomas Mitchell, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price, Ruth Nelson and much more.
When they made Technicolor films of the 1940s, which wasn't often, they were very pretty and this one is, too. They also did a nice job re-creating the early 20th century.
It's a nice film but nothing memorable, to be honest, and certainly biased in favor of Wilson....but still worth seeing. With it's length, one viewing would be enough.
"Wilson" is in the grand tradition of biopics of great men in which the
subject has no significant faults and only a few foibles, and those serve
mainly to humanize him. This is an extremely well-made movie on just
every level. It largely gets the history right, except where things have
be fudged to maintain the great man's image. One fact that's never
mentioned, for example, is Wilson's reimposition of Jim Crow laws in the
District of Columbia.
Perhaps most interesting is how the film handles Wilson's remarriage. His first wife died in 1914, and Wilson remarried in less than two years. His new wife was younger and more glamorous than the first Mrs. Wilson. The filmmakers include a scene in which the dying Mrs. Wilson tells her daughters that their father is a strong and good man, but that he needs the love of a woman. She thus exculpates Wilson from the unseemliness attendant with remarrying so quickly (though this haste was the subject of considerable gossip at the time).
"Wilson" is a well-made, entertaining and interesting period piece that provides some accurate history. Compare its treatment of President Wilson with the way in which presidents are depicted in film today -- Oliver Stone's "Nixon," for example. And can you imagine a widower president carrying on a romance in the White House in today's intolerant political and moral climate?
When watching this film one first has to take into account the fact that
was made in 1944, the heyday of patriotic Hollywood propaganda. Hollywood
had joined the war just like the rest of America, and its job was to keep
moral, foster hope for a better future, and keep people doing their jobs
the war machine with enthusiasm.
If you can take all that with a grain of salt, then you will probably like Wilson, because the goofy and embarrassingly obvious moments of propaganda (and Wilson idolatry) are the movie's only major flaw.
What this movie has going for it is Henry King's direction, many very impressive big crowd scenes and great sets (where you can actually see the ceilings), Woodrow Wilsons somewhat tragic life story, and Alexander Knox who plays Wilson. Knox gives very endearing, powerful, and emotionally resonant performance. He makes Wilson a real character that comes through even the thick layers of propaganda. The rest of the cast is good as well (especially the women in his life), but it is Knox and King that carry the movie.
See it for Wilson's excruciatingly intense final political speech. It's forceful.
7 out of 10 (for great spectacle and emotional effectiveness).
I recently saw this film on cable, and I was surprised by how much I liked
it and how good it was. Wilson is portrayed by Alexander Knox as a prickly
sort who is much easier to admire than like. He was a brilliant man but
ultimately a naif, outfoxed and outgunned in Europe by the likes of
Clemenceau and at home by the likes of Lodge. The films only flaw is that
lets Wilson go on too long with his preachy rhetoric, but this can be
forgiven because, after all, it was made and released during wartime. Well
I can see why this film was a bomb in its time and is all but forgotten
today. I just saw it for the first time, and on a big screen.
I left after about 40 minutes. There simply wasn't one interesting or dramatic scene. Wilson was depicted as a wooden saint, and everything he wanted -- getting nominations, passing bills -- happened without any apparent effort by him as he sat quietly in a room and waited for everyone to come to their senses.
This film to be epitomizes the word dull. I can see why it's forgotten. It is simply bad bad bad bad bad.
I just added those to get to 10 lines. This film isn't worth spending more time talking about
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unfortunately for younger viewers whose knowledge of history and geography is already minimal, if they happen to view this movie, they should be warned when it was made, and why it was made. I've just read one of the latest biographies of Wilson, which focused on the last years of his Presidency. The "legend" of Wilson was resurected during WWII because we were fighting the same county, Germany. Understandibly, you wouldn't want a movie that told some of the hard facts about WWI, and Wilson's role in moving us towards a war that most Historians now agree that Wilson's failures, in concert with the other Allies, gave us Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. The movie fails to show that Wilson could have had the US join the League, if he had been willing to compromise with his primary adversary, Senator Lodge, who in fact had proposed an Organization called the "United Nations" in 1915. Wilson in the movie is portrayed as an impeccable man of principal, when in fact, he allowed the British to maintain their empire, including Ireland, which was fighting its own war with the British Empire during the War. The movie also does not give the impression that Wilson had some very racist opinions about the Japan, Italy, Eastern Europeans and Blacks, in our country and abroad. He didn't particularly like Germans either, which is understandable since all of his grandparents were born in England. I don't like to judge a man born in the 19th century by 21st century standards, but in my opinion, Wilson's pro-English bias is what got us into WWI and WWII and the Cold War may have been avoided. Younger viewers who happen to see this movie should realize that. As a movie, I thought it was rather dull. Alexander Knox probably got the role because of his looks. The real shocker about this movie is that its production cost more the Gone With the Wind, made just 5 years earlier.
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