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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
*** 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.
This is a film I've wanted to see for a long time since it was nominated for best picture and won a bunch of Oscars in 1944 (in what may be considered one of the weakest years for the Oscar with "Going My Way" winning best film (over the great "Double Indemnity") and Bing Crosby winning best actor). Worldwide as well this was not a great year, as I could only find "A Canterbury Tale", "Ivan the Terrible" and "Henry the V" as memorable films made that year (you could add "Laura" and a couple of Preston Sturges comedies. Blame it on the war). I was also interested in watching a color film made in 1944 in order to compare it with the great British color films made at that time. All in all, the cinematography was very good but the film was dull as hell, I suppose because Wilson was boring as hell and was interpreted by Alexander Knox who gave a performance boring as hell. I heard Henry Fonda was considered for the part and that would have certainly helped the quality of the film and its box office, which was terrible. Regarding historical accuracy, I leave that to others who have studied the matter.
This is biographical filmmaking at its best. Although it's a bit
hagiographic, the film conveys entertainingly the outlines of Woodrow
Wilson's public life. Alexander Knox portrays Wilson as a person who had
great intellect, great passion for public policy, and enormous love for his
family. The movie is especially good at bringing to life the characters
whom Wilson crossed swords with. Clemenceau and Henry Cabot Lodge are
This movie is in splendid color, and of sufficient length to make it feel like an epic. I highly recommend it.
It's funny how they left out the fact that he segregated the military and segregated all government facilities in Washington DC such as, restrooms, drinking fountains etc. He belonged to the Progressive Party which highly admired the Russian Socialists and wished to implement the same government in the US. He began the Secret Service which was used to spy on Americans which opposed this particular view and had thousands of ordinary Americans imprisoned for opposing the Progressive/Socialist ideology. This was one of the most racist presidents our country has had. Why is this information kept out of history books? He premiered the racist silent film, "Birth of a Nation" in the White House in 1919 which was produced by the KKK to depict blacks as criminals and whites as victims. Why are there grade schools named after him, why is there a school at Harvard named after him? Progressives have always been a political party which has a negative ideology.
An appallingly boring film that presents Wilson as a figure carved out
of Mt. Rushmore without ever giving any indication of why he's supposed
to earn our idolatry. Throughout the film, Wilson is depicted as a
humorless elder statesman who stands drearily on the sidelines of
important world events without ever seeming to take an active part in
their outcome. The few scenes which attempt to provide any drama come
off as ridiculously contrived (such as when Thomas Mitchell shouts
accusations from the audience of a Wilson speech which are effortlessly
responded to - making Mitchell seem much more like a plant designed to
make Wilson look good to the audience than a legitimate agitator).
Alexander Knox gives a pompous, one note performance as Wilson, never investing the character with a humanity that makes him relatable to the audience (unlike Raymond Massey's moving depiction of Lincoln in "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" or Kenneth Branagh's recent turn as Franklin Roosevelt in HBO's "Warm Springs"). That this ridiculous film performed so well at the 1944 Oscar nominations is due entirely to its contemporary Academy voters falling for the film's stilted sense of self importance.
Woodrow Wilson was a great president who lived a fascinating life, a life which may someday be turned into an interesting film. "Wilson" is definitely not that film.
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
My main reason for wanting to watch this film was to see how they depicted the politics of the signing of the Federal Reserve Act, signed into law by president Wilson on December 23, 1913. There was but a brief acknowledgment that yes he did sign it into law. But this single act by Wilson changed the future course of the United States in a more profound way than all the presidents and all the wars that have followed. It was this Act that funded those wars. It was the signing of this Act that gave the United States the ability to 'generate' literally unlimited amounts of money. I could go on, but I'm drifting off topic. The main emphasis points of this film's 'Wilson' consisted mostly of his rise to the presidency and his actions as president during the buildup of World War I and his involvement with the League of Nations. In my opinion, the complete lack of emphasis on the signing in of the Federal Reserve Act is a concerted attempt to downplay the significance of what it does and who it gives power to. Yet it defines the fundamental structure of American society today. This act was the billion volt shock that jolted the United States into the world power that it is today. Without the Federal Reserve Act, the world would be a completely different place. Someday, someone will make a film about itbut this one's not it. The beast that 'The Fed' has become since then is a whole other story.
Woodrow Wilson, was not a great President, was not a good President and
was not even a good person.
The movie glosses over the fact that Wilson was a narrow minded, bigoted, sexist, racist jerk who dragged the country into a war it did not need to get involved in. His Justice department violated the civil rights and civil liberties of many Americans.
As for the League of Nations, its already been said that if not for his stubbornness, he might have gotten the Senate to ratify the treaty.
Finally, his most serious crime was staying in office after his stroke instead of resigning which would have been appropriate. The Vice President could not take the reigns without it looking like a power grab. Wilson placed the country in danger with his selfishness.
If the United States had been invaded or attacked or if there had been a serious crisis, the country was leaderless to handle it. That condemns Wilson and he does not deserve to be placed among the greatest Presidents.
I agree with many of the comments posted here. I, too, was pleasantly
surprised by this film. You always read what a box-office disaster the
movie was, and you get the idea that it was a real turkey. On the
contrary, I think it was a very well-made film. As many others have
pointed out, it whitewashes some of Wilson's biography, and omits
inconvenient truths about him, (such as some of his racial views and
actions). It does point out his stubbornness in relation to the Treaty
of Versailles and the League of Nations, though, and his reluctance to
compromise on those things. So it isn't a total revisionist biography.
It does outline the major events of his political career, and fairly
accurately, I think. One thing that really strikes me on watching this
film, is how well it captures the complexities of the American
Presidency, and the hysteria that the public, and other politicians,
often direct towards the president. I think many people, in any
historical age, tend to think their generation is the first to
experience certain kinds of events, such as war, depression, or
political controversy. As we all know, these are timeless events, and
though the particulars may change, the reactions to them don't change
so much. As for politics, there are some wonderful scenes in the film
of the Democratic Conventions of 1912 and 1916, that detail the serious
issues, as well as the hoopla and occasional nonsense that has always
marked those events. Marching bands, rural banjo players, pretty girls,
etc., etc. And it also accurately details the hysterical attacks made
against President Wilson- that he was weak, a waffler, a man out of his
league, or a warmonger, even a traitor- comments that somehow bring to
mind the outrageous things said about more recent presidents. As well
as about everyone from Jefferson to Lincoln. It kind of puts it into
perspective. People always say how uncivil our politics are now, which
is true, but was it really different then?
I'm also very impressed by Alexander Knox's performance, in which he really captures Wilson's character. Much as I love Bing Crosby, I think Knox should have won the Best Actor Oscar for that year. He is so convincing, and almost channels the President. Again, this IS a prettied-up picture of him, but I think it gets many of the essentials right. And, when compared to the paranoia in films like the Oliver Stone presidential biographies of Kennedy, Nixon, and Bush, I think this movie comes pretty close to the way it actually was. It is Movie History, but it seems to follow events fairly accurately. And it gives you a good feel about what it must have been like to be in the center of the storm.
I think the film also recreates the period very well. The costumes seem accurate, the sets are realistic, the Technicolor photography is beautiful, and the contemporary music evokes the atmosphere of that time. The genuine newsreels add a lot of authenticity, too. I think the explanations for how the U.S. got into World War I are also pretty accurate, and detail what a moral struggle it was for Wilson to go to war. And, in the film, Wilson mentions the various conspiracy theories about the reasons for that war that have been in circulation since that time. Again, that reminds a person of the different conspiracy theories that swirl about our time, too.
Anyway, I think this is a better film than it's given credit for. I think it is similar to the various mini-series made about Lincoln, Kennedy, and other presidents, in the TV age. It may not be complete history, but it's a good starting point for anyone interested in Wilson.
Footnotes: character actor Dwight Frye, who is so beloved for his acting in "Dracula," "Frankenstein," and many other classic movies, was slated for the part of Newton D. Baker, Wilson's Secretary of War, in the film. As all Frye fans know, shortly before filming started, Frye tragically died of a heart attack, while riding on a bus. It's a shame, as the part might have turned his faltering career, and life, around.
Also, in the scenes on board the train, just before Wilson has his stroke, you can see cars outside the window. It is supposed to be 1919 or 1920, but some of the cars look very contemporary- 1930s or 1940s cars. A goof, and very easy to see. But I don't think it really detracts from the movie in any serious way.
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