Abraham Lincoln/The Struggle [DVD]
- SKU: 17451339
- Release Date: 11/18/2008
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- Mastered in HD from 35 mm archive prints
- Introduction to The Birth of a Nation, featuring Walter Huston and D.W. Griffith on the set of Abraham Lincoln
- Lincoln's assassination: Comparison of scenes in Abraham Lincoln and The Birth of a Nation
- Gallery of photos and original pressbook for Abraham Lincoln
The directorial career of D.W. Griffith, "the father of the American cinema," ended on a discordant note with The Struggle, his second and last talking picture. Self-produced by Griffith and filmed on a $300,000 budget at a Bronx rental studio, the story is based on Emile Zola's cautionary tale The Drunkard. Broadway star Hal Skelly plays Jimmie Wilson, a bibulous millworker who swears off booze when he marries the lovely Florrie (Zita Johann). Alas, the combined pressures of his job and his new husband-and-father status lead him back into the local speakeasies, where he gets blind and stinking drunk on bootleg hootch. Losing job and family both, Jimmie wanders the streets as a bum until his sweet little daughter brings him back to his senses during a symbolic snowstorm. Reportedly, screenwriters Anita Loos and John Emerson wrote their screenplay as a sly satire of the Zola original, but Griffith insisted upon treating his material seriously. The resulting film was branded as hopelessly hokey and anachronistic: many reviewers, out of respect for Griffith's past triumphs, refused to critique the film, while other less-sentimental souls were positively savage in their condemnation of the production. Seen today, The Struggle is really no worse than most other films of its era, and at times it's actually better; the scenes in the mills, filmed on location with "natural" lighting, have the ring of utter authenticity, while Skelly's performance of a man ruined by cheap alcohol is intelligent and convincing. Still, The Struggle is a notch below the usual Griffith standard, rehashing themes he'd handled to better effect in his Biograph days. Financially the film was a disaster, and as result Griffith never directed another picture, spending his last 17 years in melancholy exile. The one positive aspect of the film is that it introduced Griffith to actress Evelyn Baldwin (cast as Skelly's sister), who became his second wife in 1936. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
To date, this D.W. Griffith epic is the only talking-picture effort to encapsulate the entire life of Abraham Lincoln, from cradle to grave. The script, credited to Stephen Vincent Benet, manages to include all the familiar high points, including Lincoln's tragic romance with Ann Rutledge (Una Merkel, allegedly cast because of her resemblance to Griffith favorite Lillian Gish), his lawyer days in Illinois, his contentious marriage to Mary Todd (Kay Hammond), his heartbreaking decision to declare war upon the South, his pardoning of a condemned sentry during the Civil War, and his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth (expansively portrayed by Ian Keith). This was D.W. Griffith's first talkie, and the master does his best with the somewhat pedantic dialogue sequences; but as always, Griffith's forte was spectacle and montage, as witness the cross-cut scenes of Yankees and Rebels marching off to war and the pulse-pounding ride of General Sheridan (Frank Campeau) through the Shenandoah Valley. Thanks to the wizardry of production designer William Cameron Menzies, many of the scenes appear far more elaborate than they really were; Menzies can also be credited with the unforgettable finale, as Honest Abe's Kentucky log cabin dissolves to the Lincoln Memorial. As Abraham Lincoln, Walter Huston is a tower of strength, making even the most florid of speeches sound human and credible; only during the protracted death scene of Ann Rutledge does Huston falter, and then the fault is as much Griffith's as his. Road-shown at nearly two hours (including a prologue showing slaves being brought to America), Abraham Lincoln was pared down to 97 minutes by United Artists, and in that length it proved a box-office success, boding well for D.W. Griffith's future in talkies (alas, it proved to be his next-to-last film; Griffith's final effort, The Struggle was a financial disaster). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Cast & Crew
- Hal Skelly - Jimmie Wilson
- Zita Johann - Florrie
- Charlotte Wynters - Nina
- Jackson Halliday - Johnnie Marshall
- Claude Cooper - Sam