Darryl F. Zanuck was one of the more progressive of the big studio moguls during Hollywood’s heyday, and his dream project had always been to make a film about the political career of Woodrow Wilson. Henry King’s Wilson fulfilled those expectations for Zanuck, but he was bitterly disappointed that the film wasn’t embraced more wholeheartedly by the general public. Still in the midst of World War II, America didn’t seem to want to endure a two and a half hour biography of the 28th President looking instead for entertainments that helped them forget the trials and tribulations of war rather than allowing the film to emphasize the parallels of the war principles Wilson espoused a generation earlier to what was going on in the world at that time.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hrs. 33 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 02/01/2013
As the president of Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson (Alexander Knox) earned the respect of many with his dogged determination to abolish organizations at the college that made various campus factions feel inferior to others. He’s persuaded to run for governor of New Jersey which he wins and later is drafted to run for the Presidency. At the 1912 convention, there are many who support other candidates more than Wilson, but eventually after forty-six ballots, Wilson becomes the compromise candidate and eventually the 28th President. With his loving wife Ellen (Ruth Nelson) by his side, he pushes through many progressive bills and legislation and manages to keep America out of World War I after the Lusitania is sunk as radical hotheads begin to call him weak and indecisive. Though his second election in 1916 is anything but a foregone conclusion (and early returns had him losing), he wins a second term only to be forced into the war when Germany backs out of formerly made promises. By then, Ellen had died and widow Edith Bolling Galt (Geraldine Fitzgerald) comes into his life leading to his second happy marriage despite his party’s fear that the country would not approve of the President taking a second wife. When the war ends, Wilson is devoted to pushing through America’s membership in the League of Nations in the hopes of circumventing any future wars, but he’s met by determined opposition at home.Lamar Trotti’s Oscar-winning screenplay hits all of the high points in the political career of Woodrow Wilson, and he manages to cover so much ground rather expediently through various kinds of montages and by cleverly using vintage footage to cover vast amounts of history (for example, the mobilization for war is handled wonderfully through old Fox newsreels, and Wilson’s stumping for the League of Nations near the end of his term is covered effectively in another montage showing its wear and tear on his constitution.) Director Henry King has the Herculean task of covering all of these monumental events while still making the film easily identifiable to people who might have been unaware of the political chaos of the era, and he does best in the 1912 Democratic Convention coverage which almost makes the viewer think he’s stepped back in time to watch the extended parades and demonstrations surrounding the candidates. Allegedly costing $5.3 million (Gone with the Wind had only cost $4 million), it’s little wonder Wilson didn’t turn a profit, but in hindsight, the depiction of the man hits the right historical points and covers just as well the rather large contingency who were against his idealism and strong sense of morality.A rather unknown B-level actor at the time, Alexander Knox is wonderfully erect and determined as Wilson. We emerge from the film knowing exactly what the man stood for and his methods of attempting to achieve his goals, and Knox’s easy-to-assimilate performance is invaluable in that regard. Both Geraldine Fitzgerald and Ruth Nelson well represent the women in his life with Fitzgerald evincing more vivacity and Nelson more settled domesticity. Thomas Mitchell has a great early scene as a spectator questioning Wilson’s beliefs and policies and who later become his longtime trusted secretary Joseph Tumulty. You’ll want to boo and hiss Senator Henry Cabot Lodge played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, a spoiled, arrogant Washington power broker who waits his turn to rule the roost and thwart Wilson whenever he can.
The Production Rating: 4/5
The film is presented in its theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but the transfer is a crushing disappointment. Color is wan almost throughout with only the scene where Wilson confronts the German consul in the second half of the movie suggesting anything of the richness and grandeur of the Oscar-winning color cinematography. Otherwise, the image looks dated and insubstantial, and there is a great amount of speckling and colored debris. Sharpness is all right, but black levels are very milky and indistinct. It’s overall a very unsatisfying viewing experience. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Video Rating: 2/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. To prevent distortion, one must turn down the excessive level of volume at which the film has been encoded. Then, the pleasures of the film’s dialogue, music, and sound effects come through much more clearly. There are occasional pops, some crackle, and some soft hiss which become evident in quieter scenes, but in general it’s an acceptable sound mix for a film from this era in an Archive release.
Audio Rating: 3/5
There are no bonus features in this made-on-demand disc.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
An enjoyable epic biography of our country’s 28th President, Wilson is deserving of a far better home video release. With an extremely lackluster picture, the film simply isn’t given its due in this Fox Archive release.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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