Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Abe Lincoln in Illinois" is a quick biography on TCM, supplements Spielberg

Last night, Turner Classic Movies aired the 1940 biography, “Abe Lincoln in Illinois”, directed by John Cromwell, from RKO Radio Pictures (an old studio, whose trademark was recently revived for “A Late Quartet”, with this link). 
The film stars Raymond Massey (I wonder if there is any distant relation to “Days” young star Chandler Massey) as an affable Abe, somewhat soft-spoken but able to explode when challenged, as in an early fight scene based on his early Kentucky years.  Everyone seems to want to promote and elect him (even to postmaster in New Salem, Illinois, where the mail comes once a week).
His physical presence, as a tall man who may have Marfan’s Syndrome, is handled well.

As he marries Mary Todd, gets elected  to Congress and eventually nominated for president with the young, anti-slavery and “pro freedom” party, the Republicans Party, which can point to a proud origin.  Toward the end of the film, Lincoln engages in some debates and gives some speeches, including a striking passage where he talks about the paradox that nature never makes people exactly equal, but that we must learn how to treat them as free and equal nevertheless.  The speech maps through several apparent logical contradictions. 
A 110-minute film cannot, of course, do complete justice to the complex history of the man, and of the way he had to promote himself to earn his place in history.
The film makes appropriate viewing in a year when Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” for Disney is aiming for Best Picture. 
The black and white cinematography is crisp and sharp for its time.
The film was preceded with an odd short film, “How to Sleep”, by Jack Kinney (Disney, 1953, black and white).  Don’t get in bed with a man like this with bare buttocks.  The film has a David Lynch feel, with mention of warm milk.  

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