D.W. Griffith's 'Abraham Lincoln' is still one hell of a film. It's fitting that Kino decided to release this particular film now, what with the recent election and Spielberg's big budget film currently in theaters. Not to mention the fact that since the 2012 election, we are seeing several states trying to secede from the union, a very real scenario back when Lincoln was president. What might set this particular film apart from the rest of the Lincoln centered films (other than this being one of the first films about the 16th president) is that Griffith's biopic covers his entire life.
Plus, Griffith's 'Abraham Lincoln' is an opposing look to his previous film 'The Birth of Nation,' the latter being a racially charged film. 'Abraham Lincoln' jumps around quite a bit as we have to get the full span of Lincoln's life in under 100 minutes. The film starts off on a slave ship and cuts to a log cabin where Lincoln is born and given his name. We immediately jump to a young twenty-something Lincoln (Walter Huston) having fun with some friends in a bar as he lifts a giant barrel of alcohol to drink. We also get to see a young Abraham become smitten with his first love, Ann Rutledge (Una Merkel), win a wrestling match, and act like a fun-loving, charming, and powerful young man. It's great to see our 16th president depicted as a normal guy as he studies law and is always ready and willing to be intimate with his girl.
However, Ann becomes ill and passes away. Abraham becomes a broken man and even resorts to lying down on top of her grave because he misses her so much. But since the film's run-time is short, we swiftly move into Lincoln meeting his wife Mary Todd (Kay Hammond) as we see Abraham dive into his early political career then onto his presidency, where we get the epic beard.
As this is a dialogue driven film, we don't see a lot of action during the Civil War. This movie focuses more on the emotional and psychological state of Lincoln. It was great to see how the name Honest Abe came about, and how frustrated and saddened Lincoln was during war time. But when Lincoln isn't bogged down by the important serious issues, he is actually a fun and silly guy, one you might want to hang out with.
This is one of Griffith's last movies. It's a pretty straight forward film without a lot of creative art direction. And we all know the Gettysburg Address was one of Lincoln's biggest moments, however that whole speech was not given any screen time. I was hoping for an extra on this disc that discussed why, but unfortunately, there is none. However, there are a several key moments in the film that lead up to the murder of Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth (Ian Keith).
If it wasn't for Huston's performance as Lincoln, I'd say this was a pretty lackluster attempt at making a film about our 16th president. That being said, I think this is worth a look if you haven't seen it, especially on blu-ray.
The film is over 80 years old and is sourced from the recent 35mm restored print courtesy of the Museum of Modern art. It has a 1080p HD transfer and comes with a 1.16:1 aspect ratio. When it was released, the film had a run-time of 97 minutes, but this restored and now public domain film is only 93 minutes long.
The film itself looks great. As a matter of fact, it's likely the best it has ever looked. That being said, this being over 80 years old and restored by a museum, there are plenty of the normal flaws that come with this type of transfer. There is a layer of grain throughout the whole film with dirt scattered here and there. I noticed the brightness changed throughout every scene as well. When you get down to it, 'Abraham Lincoln' has a very filmic look to it and doesn't appear as though it went through the digital car-wash cleanup, which means there isn't much edge enhancement or DNR.
Now that this film has a HD transfer, the detail is much better, with depth coming out stronger as much as it could. The blacks run deep and inky with the whites coming out smooth and clear, never overdone.
'Abraham Lincoln' has a Linear PCM 2.0 audio mix and tries its best to sound great, but never really gets there. I was a bit shocked to find out that before the film starts, a warning label appears on the screen and states that portions of the audio have not survived over the years, and that the dialogue and music are replaced with subtitles. So, for about 20-25 minutes at the beginning of the film, there is a back and forth of sound and silence. It's a bit distracting. I will say that the subtitles did a good job though, but after this portion, there are no subtitle options for the rest of the movie. Why stop there, Kino?
Once this issue clears up, the sound is back for good, however, there are plenty of flaws. There are constant cracks and hissing throughout the film, all on different levels. Throughout it seems like the audio track is going to dissolve or burst, maybe because this is such an old soundtrack, it has a decaying sound. That being said, the dialogue, while not the best sound, still comes across clear and understandable.
Again, it's hard not to compare this film with the recent Spielberg film on the same subject. D.W. Griffith did an amazing job with this film. Huston's performance as Lincoln is impeccable. The audio and video presentations are bittersweet at best. While this is the best the video has ever looked, there are tons of flaws and the audio is less than perfect. I wish there were more extras on this as well. I'd recommend this as a rental.