With the US presidential elections coming up, we here screen a selection of films about some of the country’s more notable presidents, from Lincoln to Nixon.
Young Mr Lincoln
John Ford | USA |1939 | 100 minutes
Ten years in the life of Abraham Lincoln, before he became known to his nation and the world. He moves from a Kentucky cabin to Springfield, Illinois, to begin his law practice. He defends two men accused of murder in a political brawl, suffers the death of his girlfriend Ann, courts his future wife Mary Todd, and agrees to go into politics.
Made by Ford in his annus mirabilis of 1939 along with Stagecoach and Drums Along the Mohawk, with Henry Fonda playing the president to-be.
Abe Lincoln in Illinois / Spirit of the People
John Cromwell | USA | 1940 | 110 minutes
An alternative view of Lincoln, from his early days in backwoods Kentucky to his election as President. After a time running livestock to New Orleans, he settles in New Salem where he meets and falls in love with Ann Rutledge who is already engaged to someone. Abe makes a home for himself in New Salem, eventually running a store and becoming the postmaster. He’s popular with the locals and is eventually elected to the State legislature but afterward established himself in the practice of law. He eventually meets Mary Todd who would become his wife and and is sent to Washington as a Congressman before he is elected president.
Sunrise at Campobello
Vincent J. Donohue | USA | 1960 | 144 minutes
The story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his battle to regain the use of his legs at the age of 39 after contracting polio. He was at his family summer house on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada when he contracted the disease with no known cure. By the time he contracted the disease in 1921, Roosevelt had a long history of public service and had run for Vice President on the Democratic ticket in 1920. He and those around him realized that any political ambitions he may have had would be dashed if he was unable to regain at least the partial use of his legs. When he’s asked to nominate Al Smith at the Democratic convention in 1924 he realizes he will will have to walk 10 paces to the podium and then stand for 45 minutes. It marks his return to public life.
Frank Pierson | USA | 1995 | 135 minutes
HBO biographical account of America’s President for the latter part of WWII. Shows Truman’s rise from small-town nobody to leader of the USA, his decission to use the Atomic Bomb against Japan, and subsequent election as the US’ post-war President.
Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy had Lived
Koji Masutani | USA | 2008 | 80 minutes
Virtual JFK investigates one of the most debated “what if” scenarios in the history of U.S. foreign policy: What would President John F. Kennedy have done in Vietnam if he had not been assassinated in 1963, and had he been re-elected in 1964? The film employs what Harvard historian Niall Ferguson calls “virtual history,” assessing the plausibility of counterfactuals – “what ifs” – and the outcomes they might have produced. The heart of the film deals with the question: Does it matter who is president on issues of war and peace?
Robert Altman | USA | 1984 | 90 minutes
In this speculative one-man drama, we see former President Richard Milhous Nixon alone in his study, dictating his thoughts into a tape recorder. His only company are a four-screen closed-circuit TV setup, the portraits on the walls, a bottle of Chivas Regal – and a loaded pistol. At times addressing an imaginary judge in a court of public opinion, at other times speaking to an aide named Roberto, and sometimes just talking to himself, the former chief executive reflects, in a series of meandering monologues, on his humble Quaker upbringing, his school days, his family and a political career that reached all the way to the White House. Nixon rails at his treatment by the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the “goddam Kennedys,” J. Edgar Hoover, Henry Kissinger, Jews, liberals, the media, “East Coast shits,” among others, as he leads up to the “true” reasons for the Watergate scandal that resulted in his resignation