As we celebrate tomorrow the inauguration of our 44th President, it’s interesting to consider that there really haven’t been a lot of movies made about our Presidents.
Hollywood’s heyday covered a lot of historic figures in movies that dramatized fact and fiction, sometimes without seeming importance for one over the other. In this parade of historical figures, the Presidents have been given short shrift. I can think of only a handful:
“The Flag” (1927) covered in this earlier blog post, Francis X. Bushman plays a brief role as a dashing George Washington in a story that is really more about Betsy Ross.
“Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939), Henry Fonda plays Honest Abe in this John Ford film.
“Abe Lincoln in Illinois” (1940). Raymond Massey, who many feel owned the role of Lincoln after portraying him in Robert Sherwood’s Broadway play, takes the helm as Commander in Chief in this John Cromwell film. Ruth Gordon plays Mary Todd Lincoln.
“Wilson” (1944), Alexander Knox plays Woodrow Wilson in this wartime-inspired patriotic piece.
“The President’s Lady” (1953). Charlton Heston plays Andrew Jackson the film about Old Hickory’s courtship with his wife, Rachel.
“PT 109” (1963). Cliff Robertson plays a pre-Presidential Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy.
The best I’ve seen among Presidential biographies belongs not to Hollywood’s Golden Age, but to HBO’s magnificent series on “John Adams” last year, based on the book by David McCullough. It’s a good thing to be reminded of our heritage from time to time, our strengths as well as our weaknesses, and biographical dramatizations help stir our imaginations if they cannot stir our memories. As the saying goes, you have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.
Hail to the Chief.