Saturday, March 24, 2007

Tonight's Movie: The President's Lady (1953)

When I was in junior high school I read Irving Stone's historical novel THE PRESIDENT'S LADY for a report. The book chronicled the love story of our seventh President, Andrew Jackson, and his wife Rachel.

Until now I had never caught up with the movie of the same name, which stars Charlton Heston and Susan Hayward as the Jacksons. The film version of THE PRESIDENT'S LADY was a real treat, especially as I'm a Heston fan.

The first half of the movie, in particular, is a crackling good frontier romance and adventure which I found completely delightful. Heston and Hayward are in fine form as the tempestuous Jacksons, whether they're escaping her abusive first husband or various encounters with hostile Indians. Heston is the essence of the adventurous, can-do American, and Hayward is delightfully spunky as the lovely Rachel.

The second half of the film is more melodramatic, as Rachel endures not only Andrew's absences serving our country, but the public censure that resulted from Rachel's divorce and the Jacksons inadvertently marrying before the divorce from her first husband was final. Hot-tempered Andrew at one point insists on fighting a duel to defend his wife's honor. Heston and Hayward are still wonderful as the aging Jacksons -- though I felt the makeup in the final scenes unfairly aged her more than it did him -- but I would have enjoyed the film even more if it had focused more on their early years and contained a little less angst. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and am very happy to have finally seen it.

While the film depicts the broad outlines of the Jacksons' lives accurately, it perhaps necessarily condenses the time frames of certain things -- one in particular I will forgo mentioning here as it's a plot spoiler -- while omitting other significant events, such as the adoption of Rachel's nephew, who was named Andrew Jackson, Jr.

The film's supporting cast includes Fay Bainter and John McIntire. It was directed by Henry Levin. Heston said in his autobiography IN THE ARENA that when playing "great men" he always tried to remember a piece of direction Levin gave him on how to play a scene more believably: "Just remember: you don't know you're going to be President yet."

In a nice coincidence, a few years later it was Susan Hayward who presented Charlton Heston with the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in BEN-HUR.

Screen shots from the film can be viewed here and here. The original New York Times review can be read here.

THE PRESIDENT'S LADY was filmed in black and white and runs 96 minutes. It is not currently available on video or DVD, but can be seen periodically on cable on the Fox Movie Channel.

Update: THE PRESIDENT'S LADY has been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time.


Blogger Irene said...

I remember seeing this movie many years ago before cable was around. I always liked Charlton Heston. I went to the Turner site and voted to have this released on DVD :) My vote now makes 102 people who would like to see this released!

12:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'll go vote right this minute, Irene. I was surprised that this doesn't appear to have had a video release.

One thing I was curious about is that the film's closing montage includes brief scenes that were not in the earlier film. I wondered if they were shot for the montage, or if that meant there was footage on the cutting-room floor -- which might be available for an "extra" in a DVD release.

I admire Charlton Heston on screen and off. :)

Best wishes, Laura

12:25 PM  
Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

If you liked this film, you might be interested to know (but knowing you, you probably already do :)) that Charlton Heston played Andrew Jackson in another great film: 1958's The Buccaneer. It also starred Yul Brynner as the pirate Jean Lafitte who would team up with Gen. Jackson to fight the British in the war of 1812. It's a rousing good historical actioner that also features Charles Boyer, Claire Bloom and E.G. Marshall. It was directed by Anthony Quinn. Edith Head was nominated for an Oscar for her great costumes.
It's currently not available on DVD, but TCM does show it occasionally. In my humble opinion it would make a great companion piece to The President's Lady, and perhaps to a Charlton Heston Signature Collection box set. Goodness knows he deserves one.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

THE BUCCANEER just jumped onto my "radar screen" within the last few weeks. I know I must have read about it when I read Heston's books but it didn't really "register" at the time. I'd love to see it! It sounds like a lot of fun. Heston was a great Jackson and I'd love to see him play the role again, especially as THE PRESIDENT'S LADY mostly concentrated on the domestic front. It would be neat to see the "flip side" of the story. Thanks so much for sharing more details about it.

A Signature Collection of Charlton Heston films is really a "must."

Best wishes,

7:50 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Wonderful review, Laura. Now I really must find this movie!

4:29 PM  

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