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Walter Huston played Abe eighty years before Daniel Day-Lewis did - which one's the better performance....?
Kino / 93 Minutes / 1930 / Unrated / Street Date: November 13, 2012
D.W. Griffith was at the bottom end of his career when he made Abraham Lincoln in 1930 - after literally introducing the 'feature-length film' to the world, he had ventured to the high mountains with Intolerance and then swiftly headed for the valley after that movie's notorious misfire. In fact, what makes Abraham Lincoln so stony and impermeable is how standard it feels: when Griffith wasn't pushing the envelope, his storytelling skills were, well, cheesy.
It's not that Walter Huston doesn't do a great job bringing Abe to life - even though this ninety-minute picture reduces events like The Civil War to bullet-point montages, Huston infuses the movie's eponymous character with gravitas and seriousness. Lincoln here is passionate yet reserved, almost tormented by his insatiable desire to do good.
But Griffith unfurls Abraham Lincoln in a stunningly standard and run-of-the-mill way. Nearly a hundred years later, if there are any major virtues to Griffith's accomplishments as a film director, they lie in his audacious qualities, his determination to dropkick filmic norms in exchange for outlandish effect (even relatively coy fare like Broken Blossoms feels new and inventive). Those fascinated by Griffith's (perhaps) unfair downfall in the autumn of his career will find this high-def edition of Abraham Lincoln to be a fascinatingly still experiment - it's a movie that is mesmerizing because of the boredom it inspires.