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At Long Last - GREATEST Lincoln Ever Done On Film Or TV Is Now Out on DVD!!
on July 17, 2011
This is one Lincoln-fan who is literally ECSTATIC that this wonderful series is finally coming out on DVD. Having loved Lincoln my entire life, and having been totally familiar with all the other movie/TV depictions of him that have been done over the years, Hal Holbrook's depiction of Lincoln is, was, and remains, in my opinion, the very very best ever done. Better than Raymond Masseys's, better than Henry Fonda's The absolute gold standard. While Holbrook may not be as tall as Lincoln actually was, contemporary accounts tell us that Lincoln actually spoke not with the deep-base baritone of a Massey, but with a countrified "twang." He would say "Mr. Cheerman" for "Mr. Chairman," for example. Holbrook totally nails this - giving us, what I think, is probably the closest to the "real" sounding Lincoln that has ever been portrayed.
Note that this series does not present a straight linear forward time-line of Lincoln's life and career. But it is possible, if you watch the episodes in a certain order, to follow along his life in a fairly accurate manner. Let me suggest this order to view the series:
1)Start with "Prairie Lawyer" - which shows him as a young lawyer, having just moved to Springfield, a short time after his New Salem days. Incidentally, while movies have depicted his romance with Ann Rutledge, this episode is, to the best of my knowledge, the only cinematic depiction ever done of his relationship with "another Mary" - a young woman named Mary Owens, whom Lincoln courted after Ann Rutledge died, before he met Mary Todd. Wonderfully presented, as is the prairie court room, with a case that Lincoln is trying against his current (and perennial future) opponent, Stephen A. Douglas.
2)Then catch "Crossing Fox River" - showing the campaign for the Presidency in 1860, and the transition period during which, as Present-Elect, he names his cabinet (covering the story told by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book, Team of Rivals). A very wonderful scene is where Lincoln says good bye to his elderly stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnson, never to see her again...
3)Then see "Mrs. Lincoln's Husband" - depicting the heartbreak the Lincolns faced, as a couple in the White House, and the accusations of treason made against Mrs. Lincoln by political opponents of her husband.
4)Next, catch "Unwilling Warrior" - which shows us Lincoln the War President. Very episodic, it jumps from the "Baltimore Plot" - the attempt to assassinate Lincoln while travelling to Washington to assume the Presidency in 1861; to his grappling with military strategy; his relationship with Gen. McClellan, with Gen Grant, and, in one of the very best scenes involving Lincoln in any medium that I have ever seen - TV or cinema - the story of Lincoln's journey into Richmond, shortly after it fell to Union troops in April 1865, and only a few short days before his death.
5)"Sad Figure Laughing" - this is the interesting tale of the relationship with another member of that "Team Of Rivals" - the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, and Chase's efforts aimed at replacing Lincoln as Republican Party Presidential nominee in 1864.
6) Finally, "The Final Days," tells of Lincoln's last few days in office - very hauntingly done. The opening scene, depicting Lincoln's speech from a White House balcony to a crowd on the lawn, celebrating the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomatix (and where Lincoln asks the band to play "Dixie") is particularly effective.
Again, I cannot praise this series enough. ANYONE at all interested in Lincoln, ANYONE who enjoys reading about him, will find this series both moving and rewarding. My only regret is that there are no "extras" on it - behind the scenes "making of" documentaries, and that sort of thing. Oh well...when one is served lobster, I suppose he should not complain that there is no steak on the plate as well. I am so thrilled to finally have Sandburg's Lincoln on DVD.
Late Addition Re Transfer Issue: I have read the comments regarding the transfer quality. You should know that this David Wolper production, produced in the mid 1970s, was originally filmed, unfortunately, not on high grade 35 mm film, but lower grade 16 mm. The stock deteriorated until, a few years ago, the only source material found was decaying and brown. So, frankly, Lincoln fans should be grateful that ANY fairly viewable source material remained to make this transfer. I will say that I think some of the comments about the absolute "awfulness" of the transfer quality are a little overblown. It is not a 21st century fully digital, pristine, transfer. But, again, this was a TV SERIES IN THE 1970s! Please, please, please - try and get past the fact that this is not a new transfer of a fully digitalized "Avatar," and just enjoy the series - the story, the writing, the characters, and Holbrook's WONDERFUL depiction of Lincoln!
Late Late Addition Re Daniel-Day Lewis Issue: Yes, it is amusing to watch Spielberg's "Lincoln" movie, with D-D-Lewis as Mr. Lincoln, and see him holding conversations with Hal Holbrook (as Maryland politico Preston Blair). Frankly, these scenes make me a little sad - because I know that most of the world - and, in fact, even probably 99% of the audience watching the Spielberg movie - have no idea that Holbrook himself ever played Lincoln! And that makes me feel bad for Holbrook - makes me wish how some sort of time-warp movie meld could take place momentarily during these scenes, and transport a nearly 40 year-younger Holbrook into the Lincoln role, right there into the movie, in front of us. Now, I think DD Lewis was GREAT as Lincoln. Well-deserved Academy Award for his performance! But I still must give highest honors to Holbrook. Something about HH's mannerisms, his laughter, his expressions, and, yes, his voice ("like a barn owl caught in a bear trap") that still gives Holbrook the title - in my book - of "GREATEST Lincoln Ever Done On Film Or TV."