A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wilson (Henry King, 1944)

Geraldine Fitzgerald and Alexander Knox in Wilson
Woodrow Wilson: Alexander Knox
Edith Bolling Galt: Geraldine Fitzgerald
Joseph Tumulty: Thomas Mitchell
Ellen Wilson: Ruth Nelson
Henry Cabot Lodge: Cedric Hardwicke
Henry Holmes: Charles Coburn
William Gibbs McAdoo: Vincent Price
George Felton: William Eythe
Josephus Daniels: Sidney Blackmer
Col. House: Charles Halton
"Big Ed" Jones: Thurston Hall
Georges Clemenceau: Marcel Dalio

Director: Henry King
Screenplay: Lamar Trotti
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art direction: James Basevi, Wiard Ihnen
Film editing: Barbara McLean
Music: Alfred Newman

Wilson was a famous flop, its failure magnified by the angry disappointment of its producer, Darryl F. Zanuck, who thought that a film about the man who was president during World War I would be just the ticket during World War II. Still seething about it when he accepted the best picture Oscar for Gentleman's Agreement (Elia Kazan, 1947) three years later, Zanuck grumbled, "I should have got this for Wilson." One problem was that audiences were not particularly enthusiastic about sitting through a history lesson in mid-wartime, but another was that Woodrow Wilson was not one of our more charismatic presidents. He was nominated by a deadlocked Democratic convention and elected because the Republicans were split between William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" candidacy. Wilson was an intellectual, a college history professor who became president of Princeton University, and never mastered the technique of selling his lofty ideas about world peace to the electorate. Though Wilson is chock full of biopic clichés, including wall-to-wall patriotic music, and it's about an hour too long, it's not as boring as it is cracked up to be. It has moments of real energy, particularly in its depiction of the political conventions and their high-flown oratory, and the introduction of newsreel footage brings it back to reality. It's also opulently produced, with some spectacular interiors and some vivid (not to say lurid) Technicolor. Alexander Knox does what he can to warm up a man who was probably rather chilly in real life.

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