Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Television Corner: Sandburg's Lincoln (1974)

Hal Holbrook as President Abraham Lincoln
in David L. Wolper's adaptation of Carl Sandburg's Lincoln.
Sandburg’s Lincoln is an interesting, yet insightful miniseries on the life and times of the sixteenth President of The United States. It features Hal Holbrook as Abraham Lincoln, along with Sada Thompson as Mary Todd Lincoln, produced by David L. Wolper (1928-2010) and directed by George Schaefer (1920-1997).

The miniseries was adapted from Carl Sandburg’s Pulitzer prize-winning biographical works on President Lincoln. It showcases Lincoln from his days as a trial lawyer, to his entry into the political landscape and election into the office of the Presidency, to his struggles within the family, to helping to preserve the Union during The Civil War, to his battles with treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase (portrayed by Roy Poole) during the President's 1864 re-election, to reconstruction and his final days in office.

The miniseries aired on NBC in two-season segments (consisting of three episodes each), in the 1974-75 and 1975-76 fall television seasons, and was a ratings success. Sandburg’s Lincoln was nominated for four Emmy® Awards. Holbrook won the Emmy® award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series. Writer Loring Mandel won the Writers Guild of America (WGA) award for the second episode of the series, Crossing Fox River.  Holbrook would reprise his role of Lincoln in another popular Wolper miniseries- North and South, based off of the best-selling Civil War novel trilogy by John Jakes (which aired on ABC in 1985, 1986, and 1994).

After its network run, the only way one could see Sandburg’s Lincoln was through syndicated repeats. This miniseries was unavailable on any home entertainment format until 2011- when it was released on DVD through indie value distributor Mill Creek Entertainment (via an agreement between the Wolper family and Warner Bros., which owns the post-1970 Wolper Organization holdings). Though some scenes may not be pristine at times (due to source material elements), this miniseries is still enjoyable.

What’s unusual is that all six episodes (in the two-disc DVD set) aren't presented in their original airdate order or in chronological order. I found out that watching the episodes in chronological order was the best way to enjoy the series (thanks to an Amazon.com reviewer).

David L. Wolper's adaptation f Sandburg’s Lincoln is a fascinating, yet informative series on the life of Abraham Lincoln.  I think Hal Holbrook is one of the best actors who portrayed Lincoln, along with Henry Fonda (in Young Mr. Lincoln), Raymond Massey (in Abe Lincoln in Illinois), Gregory Peck (in the 1982 TV miniseries The Blue and The Gray), Jason Robards (lending his voice as Lincoln in Ken Burns' critically acclaimed documentary, The Civil War), and Daniel Day-Lewis (in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln*- based off of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer-prize winning biographical portrait of the President, Team of Rivals).

*Lincoln (2012) was the last feature film that this author watched in a movie theater (and possibly one of the last screenings off of a physical film print, second-run at MDL Holiday Cinemas back in late 2012).   The film also features Hal Holbrook as politician Francis Preston Blair, Sr.  If you've never seen Lincoln, it is a fascinating motion picture.   Rent (or stream) it when you have the chance.

ATM REMEMBERS: At The Matinee remembers two entertainment icons that we lost recently- noted crooner Jerry Vale (1930-2014, known for his hits Volare, You Don't Know Me, and You Can Never Give Me Back My Heart) and cinematographer Gordon Willis (1931-2014, known for his work on The Godfather, and All The President's Men).

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