Blu-ray review: ‘D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln’ (1930)
While Steven Spielberg’s stately “Lincoln” is much on the minds of film and history buffs at the moment, it’s a canny move for Kino to release its spiffed-up Blu-ray edition of “D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln.”
Made in 1930, at the tail end of Griffth’s prolific and masterly career as a silent-film pioneer, this overstuffed cinema biography of The Great Emancipator is a wobbly, episodic effort notable mainly for marking Griffth’s halting transition to talkies.
Given vast changes in technology and cultural attitudes, it certainly isn’t fair to compare this dated effort with Spielberg’s brilliantly textured saga. But the quaint, old-school look of Griffith’s film pales particularly in proximity to the sepia-toned artfulness of Spielberg’s. And the brilliant, restrained naturalism of Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance gives much more breadth and depth to Lincoln than did Walter Huston’s more stylized, melodramatic portrayal.
Griffith’s narrative (scripted by John Considine Jr., Garrit Lloyd and Stephen Vincent Benet, famed for the book-length abolitionist poem “John Brown’s Body”) traces Lincoln’s life from his log-cabin birth through his itinerate lawyering in Illinois to the Civil War-torn White house and his tragic death. Along the way, there are episodes touching on his first love, Ann Rutledge (Una Merkel), who died of typhoid, and his eventual, seemingly reluctant marriage to social climber Mary Todd (Kay Hammond).
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