11 April 2006 | vandino1
The Good, the Bad, and the Burton
This is a hit-and-miss film. It has a perfectly sensible choice in Burton as Edwin Booth (although the producers originally tried to get Olivier, of course) and Massey seems a fitting actor within the framework of the story considering he'd played both John Brown and Lincoln in other films. It also has a reliably expert score by Bernard Herrmann, and cinematography-wise is quite vivid. But scene-wise it expends much of its energy on Shakespeare and too little on the Booth family saga. There's not enough of the tumult of mad Junius (Massey) and later, not enough of the mad intrigue of John Wilkes (although we are spared John Derek's attempts at Shakespeare). Instead we get Burton's take on various Shakespearean works (not an unpleasant experience and good to see recorded on film) and his romance and tragic first marriage (Maggie McNamara, whose recitation of Juliet's lines are pedestrian, if not tragic). There is also some very clumsy direction, allowing the actors to ham it up (one small moment is Sarah Padden as Mary Todd Lincoln who reacts to the shooting of her husband with a silent hugging of him that is straight out of silent movies; and Burton should not be slapping a hand over his face during every other emotional moment). The finale, featuring an angry mob that Burton/Booth wins over is awkwardly handled, leading to a risible moment when John Doucette (a familiar character actor who later played the undertaker in 'The Sons of Katie Elder') starts clapping and rah-rah'ing to a stunned crowd. It's a scene, like many others, that isn't written badly, it's just incompetently directed, but that's all it takes to sink the whole enterprise. The Booth saga is fascinating and deserving of more attention, but cinematically, this film is all there is for now.