13 December 2006 | Doylenf
Van Heflin's performance is the strong point of the film...
VAN HEFLIN as Andrew Johnson and RUTH HUSSEY as his wife both give earnest performances and the screenplay, while fictionalizing certain points for dramatic license, is a good one. But, as usual, history buffs are going to nitpick the inaccuracies to the point of dismissing the film as fiction. Not true. What it does do is make anyone who watches it want to consult the history books--and that's a good thing if you want to know the whole story behind Johnson being the first president in history against whom impeachment charges were made.
As his adversary in the impeachment process, LIONEL BARRYMORE delivers another one of his more restrained performances without overdoing the ham. He and Heflin share some pretty dramatically effective moments, both of them in fine form. Heflin takes the character of Johnson from his humble beginnings as a tailor to his marriage to Hussey and his gradual emergence as a spokesmen for the people of Tennessee. For the sake of running time, it skips most of the years leading up to the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination, compressing all of those events and managing to keep the screenplay a tightly knit focus on the impeachment process itself. Only quibble is it fails to make clear the strongest point of the impeachment.
VAN HEFLIN plays most of his role in appropriate age make-up (as does Hussey) and they're both terrific. In lesser roles, MARJORIE MAIN, REGIS TOOMEY and CHARLES DINGLE provide colorful support.
Summing up: May not be a complete history lesson, but it will certainly cause viewers to probe more deeply into the detailed background of historical interest. And it does serve to remind us what a fine actor Van Heflin was in a demanding role.