A D.W. Griffith epic about Abraham Lincoln's life, "Abraham Lincoln" was the film that would show many that silent filmmaker D.W. Griffith had what it takes to make movies in the talkies era.
Griffith's 1930 film "Abraham Lincoln" now receives the HD treatment courtesy of Kino Lorber and thanks to the restoration work of The Museum of Modern Art for the Blu-ray release.
D.W. Griffith is one of America's pioneering filmmakers. Known for creating large-scale silent films such as "The Birth of a Nation", "Intolerance", "Broken Blossoms", "Orphans of the Storm", D.W. Griffith was the big budget super-director during the silent era.
And in 1919, D.W. Griffith along with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, wanted to control their own interests rather than depending on powerful studios of the time and created United Artists.
But when talkies came and literally ended the life of silent cinema, the once wealthy and powerful D.W. Griffith now became a vulnerable director, an alcoholic, an older director at 53-years-old and because of his work in the silent era, many were not sure if D.W. Griffith can transition into the talkies.
His relationship with producer Joseph M. Schenck was now being tested as films from D.W. Griffith were not earning enough profit for the producer despite doing well compared to others who came from the silent era. And communication between both men was deteriorating.
So, in 1930, D.W. Griffith, a fan of Carl Sandburg's written work on Abraham Lincoln, but also a fan of Lincoln's stories, would go on to work on "Abraham Lincoln". But as the relationship with Schenck soured, Schenck was no longer interested in giving Griffith the money to make big films, in fact, Schenck resorted to D.W. Griffith taking a pay cut. After months of back-and-forth between the two men, both side agreed to work on the film, with no salary reductions but also to eliminate Griffith's consulting fee if he goes beyond 19 weeks to create the film.
Knowing that the relationship between he and Schenck would be tested, depending on the box office returns of "Abraham Lincoln", D.W. Griffith knew that in order to stay in the business, to stay profitable in the business, he would have to deliver. In this case, also prove that he can create a talkie.
And in the process, D.W. Griffith was able to bring in Walter Huston and also was able to tap into poet Stephen Vincent Benet into writing for the film. But even then, as there was still resentment that Schenck had towards D.W. Griffith, story writer John W. Considine Jr. would make things hard on Griffith and Benet for the adaptation.
Countless rewrites were done on "Abraham Lincoln" to the point that even Benet was starting to show frustration because his screenplay was being changed to the point that he felt each screenplay was starting to become worse and worse and that the rewrites were starting to make him lose his mind.
It was more a battle of ego's between Considine Jr. (a writer in the industry) vs. Benet (a Pulitzer Prize winning poet), in which Considine wanted to make sure that Benet has much to learn about the industry and despite nearly being sued by Benet for libel, the two managed to work together and makes a final screenplay was done.
As Griffith promoted the film, reviews of the film around the country were positive. The publication, "The Morning World" wrote, "Mr. Griffith was in every way at his best.", actor Walter Huston would also earn positive marks for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. A film critic, Watts wrote of Huston's performance,"Beautiful, tender, humorous and entirely touching".
"Abraham Lincoln" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:20:1 aspect ratio) and was mastered in HD from the 35 mm restoration by the Museum of Modern Art. Picture quality for this film is actually very good. Really good clarity when it comes to closeups and I didn't notice any major damage to the video. For a film that is over 80-years-old, "Abraham Lincoln" was a wonderful restoration that proved to look great on Blu-ray!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Abraham Lincoln" is presented in monaural. There are some issues that are shown at the beginning that some of the audio of the film was lost. So, after the opening credits, the film is silent for a few minutes, before you can hear sound again. Dialogue for the most part is clear and understandable. I chose to listen to the monaural soundtrack with it playing throughout all my speaker channels but noticed no hissing, pops or crackle during my viewing of the film.
Once again, for a film created in the beginning of the talkies era, "Abraham Lincoln" not only looks good, the film also sounds very good as well!
There are no subtitles included on this Blu-ray release.
"Abraham Lincoln" comes with the following special features:
Introductions Part 1 - (5:51) Walter Huston interviews D.W. Griffith about the film and presents him with something special.
Introductions Part 2- (1:53) Walter Huston questions Griffith about the film's historical accuracy.
"Abraham Lincoln" comes with a slipcase.
"Abraham Lincoln" could be seen as one of the most accessible and entertaining D.W. Griffith epics in the filmmaker's oeuvre. But if you are also a D.W. Griffith fan of his work, you can't help be a bit saddened that "Abraham Lincoln" was the filmmakers last well-received film by film critics nationwide.
While the film is well-regarded as a wonderful Abraham Lincoln adaptation, unfortunately due to the Great Depression which hurt America for several years, the film did not make as much in the box office. While the film does try its best to be accurate, there are some historical inaccuracies that relate to Lincoln's presidential run including an inaccurate portrayal of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
It is important to note that for accuracy, Griffith was trying to get access to writer Carl Sandburg's books, pictures and notes of Abraham Lincoln but Sandburg's asking price at the time was $30,000 (which was a lot in 1930) and it was a price that Schenck would be unwilling to pay as he wanted to keep costs down.
And while the film did receive rave reviews all around the country, due to his relationship with his producer at the time, what matter about the film was not about how well-loved the film received by audiences but about the box office returns. For Schenck, the businessman and producer cared for one thing and that is how much the film would make. And for what explanation could D.W. Griffith have for Schenck for not making a lot of money, he could talk about rewriting and not accurately depicting a relationship to benefit certain viewers. But he also made it know that because of the interference by writer Considine and by Schenck, "it was not possible to get good results from a director when he has to please two or three factions" (source: "D.W. Griffith: An American Life" by Richard Schickel).
And unfortunately, for the great silent filmmaker, his next talkie, "The Struggle" , created in 1931 would receive the worst reviews he had ever had in his lifetime and would eventually put him into major debt and end his career as a filmmaker.
And while in 2012, a new film about Abraham Lincoln has been made twice (one which included the president as a vampire hunter), there have been other films that also did amazingly well including John Ford's 1939 film "Young Mr. Lincoln" and also John Cromwell's "Abe Lincoln in Illinois", but unlike Griffith's experience, the two films were not released during the Great Depression, nor did they have to contend with many factors of getting a film made.
What I enjoyed about Griffith's "Abraham Lincoln" was the fact that the characters were human. While it is debated about how much of an affect Ann Rutledge had on Abraham Lincoln, Griffith's film painted the two as deeply in love and that Ann was his true love at a young age.
The film also shows Abraham Lincoln as a man of patience and also as a caring man. Where in the film, he prevents one young soldier from being executed for desertion, he gives the lad a chance. Griffith also tries to show Abraham Lincoln as a man who wanted to unite the states and with writer Benet, trying to meet halfway when it comes to historical accuracy but also trying to tell a political story that would not be too cerebral for its viewers that even historical accuracy would have to be a sacrificed a little.
But possibly the highlight of this film is its performance by Walter Huston. The film was dependent on Huston's acting of Lincoln through the years and Huston had to show that he can be a young man involved in brawls, a sensitive man who would cry on the grave of his girlfriend but also a witty and observing lawyer who would go on to become the 16th President of the United States.
So, despite the challenges that "Abraham Lincoln" had to go through during pre-production and of course, after its release in theaters, one could look at the film today as D.W. Griffith's final, great film.
And for this historical epic, its made even better thanks to the restoration by the Museum of Modern Art for its Blu-ray release courtesy of Kino. The picture quality of the film looks amazing and while there are some portions of the film without sound and is lost, it's not too much of a distraction and I was quite pleased with how the film looked and sounded on Blu-ray. No video problems, nor were there any audio problems or hissing or pops during my viewing of the film. If there is only one thing that I was surprised to see is the addition of the "Introduction" special features that were included in "The Birth of a Nation" Blu-ray release. But I can understand why it was included as it was created during the production of "Abraham Lincoln" and features both D.W. Griffith and Walter Huston.
Abraham Lincoln" was the final film showing us D.W. Griffith at his best and proving that he can make a talkie film. Featuring a wonderful performance by actor Walter Huston, portraying Abraham Lincoln of various ages, the film that was able to show the many sides of Lincoln's personality in a film. Featuring a wonderful restoration by the Museum of Modern Art, "Abraham Lincoln" is another wonderful D.W. Griffith Kino Classics release on Blu-ray!