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Monday, September 20, 2010

ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS (1940)


Robert Sherwood’s Pulitzer Prize winning play got the prestige treatment @ RKO (for good & ill) in John Cromwell’s film adaptation.* Cherry-picking the best moments from Lincoln’s adult life thru his departure for D.C., as President, and respectful to a fault, the film chugs along from one frame-worthy moment to the next, a series of patriotic talking tableaux vivant, juxtaposed with interpolated action set pieces that don’t feel dramatically integrated. Raymond Massey, repeating his famous stage perf, is a bit too aware that he’s playing the role-of-a-lifetime, his Lincoln is less lived-in than pickled. (In his film debut, Howard da Silva was the only other B’way holdover.) Gene Lockhart does well by Stephen Douglas while Ruth Gordon stands out as a disturbingly odd, yet weirdly powerful Mary Todd. And somehow, as the film rolls out, you adjust to the missteps & borrowed significance, because, darn it all, these really are frame-worthy moments. *Our poster is from the original B'way production.

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