"Any idealism is a proper subject for art." Lafcadio Hearn
One of the most cherished figures of the American history, Abraham Lincoln, has appeared to be a truly unique and powerful character for the screen. D.W. Griffith, among others, had directed the motion picture with Walter Huston. Along with the emergence of Technicolor and some greatest productions of the late 1930s, there was a need for pictures meant not merely to entertain but, as the prologue in William C. McGann's film says, to remind Americans of 'the magnificent heritage to preserve.' Therefore, the idea of this short little picture (running sole 20 minutes), seemingly the studio's bonus entertainment for a night at Warner Brothers, has remained something filled with many idealistic notions and wordy pompous clichéd script. But aren't the words by Lafcadio Hearn quoted at the beginning really adequate? Isn't art open to any idealism? Especially when relying on some important moments in history to lift up people's hearts? Let us focus on the main figure, the main hero of this picture: Abraham Lincoln. LINCOLN IN THE WHITE HOUSE, Lincoln as the President of the United States...what is he like in this picture? Who is the man who helped the union stay alive?
Initiated by strong patriotism and the adequate material in this respect, the film relies strongly on the definition of an 'upright man, straightforward leader, perfect father, moral diplomat and a saint-like believer,' who counts on individual freedom and revels in it. That is how Frank McGlynn portrays Abraham Lincoln. Much glory and little psychology! Something on the verge of propaganda! And yet...he is so deadly sympathetic as a genuine honest husband and a father who keeps the flame of family's union. He is ready for a little laughter, a calm, restrained companion and friend of the people whom Almighty God has created equal. He is a man who understands others' sorrows better than his own and aids desperate Mrs Scott (Sybil Harris), the father who teaches his son Tad (Dickie Moore) to be a good soldier and a good guard.' Primarily, however, he is a 'father' of one nation tormented by divisions and war. He is the President who keeps the flag waving and the flame of union's heritage intact. His remarks are loving and 'delicatory.' He is an example to follow, masterpiece of mankind. Even visually, he is the tallest of all. Although his policy is considered as 'suicidal' by some of the fellow politicians, he understands that the nation is one and he must care for all, though 'they believe in their cause as we believe in ours.' This perception of one nation is executed in one of the scenes when Lincoln wants the band to play the famous song 'Dixie', the purely southern song. Paradoxically for the time, clichés are broken - a 'Yankee' listens to 'Dixie' with enthusiasm and a tear in the eye... It is said that Lincoln lives in torment but, psychologically, we cannot see it. Naturally, what can you develop in a 20 minute-production? Frank McGlynn does his best in overacting and although he has some nice scenes with Dickie Moore as his son, the general result is rather unconvincing for a modern viewer. Not a very good performance.
In sum, the little film such as LINCOLN IN THE WHITE HOUSE is does not appear as entirely dated. Though its mighty 'fine' idealism is surely exaggerated, the Technicolor pluses and some little moments make for quite amusing twenty minutes. But history lesson? Forget it here! Look elsewhere! 5/10