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Wilson Movie Review

Director: Henry King

Starring: Alexander Knox, Charles Coburn, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Thomas Mitchell, Ruth Nelson, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price, William Eythe, Mary Anderson, Ruth Ford, Sidney Blackmer, Madeleine Forbes, Stanley Ridges, Eddie Foy Jr., Charles Halton, Thurston Hall, J. M. Kerrigan, James Rennie, Katherine Locke, Stanley Logan, Marcel Dalio, Edwin Maxwell, Clifford Brooke, Tonio Selwart, John Ince, Charles Miller

Oscar Wins: Best Art Direction (Color), Best Cinematography (Color), Best Film Editing, Best Sound Recording, Best Original Screenplay

Other Nominations: Best Actor (Alexander Knox), Best Director, Best Musical Score, Best Special Effects, Best Picture

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with presidential history. While other 10-year-old girls were having birthday parties at Discovery Zone or sleepovers with their friends, I was in Springfield exploring the home of Abraham Lincoln. I had a board game about presidential trivia and a 3D puzzle of the White House that I built and proudly displayed in my room. My social anxiety really shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point 😉

As a growing 10-year-old, I wasn’t really interested in foreign policy, but I loved learning about the personal lives of our presidents – their favorite foods, where they grew up, how many dogs they had. Sure, I favored Lincoln in my ‘studies’, but I wasn’t picky.

When Wilson came up as a nominated movie for 1945, I must admit – I was torn. Part of me flashed back to my 10-year-old self, excited to learn more about a new president; another part of me couldn’t help but wonder why someone would want to make a movie about Woodrow Wilson.

After seeing Wilson, I’m still not sure if I really know why this movie was created. The film chronicles the life of Wilson, beginning with his decision to leave his position at President of Princeton University to run for Governor of New Jersey, and follows his subsequent ascent to the Oval Office.

During his terms in office, Wilson must deal with the death of his first wife, the onslaught of German hostilities and his own country’s resistance to join the League of Nations. Clocking in at 154 minutes, Wilson is a bit of a long and tedious journey (both for him and us) to the White House.

Still, I was entertained. I was (and still am) unfamiliar with the lead actor, Alexander Knox, who had to endure more than 1,100 lines of dialogue and almost 300 scenes to play Woodrow Wilson. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for his role, but lost to Bing Crosby (Going My Way). His performance in Wilson was admirable, and of course it helped that he was a dead ringer for the president himself.

Despite its slow pace, the set design in this movie was unparalleled with anything else from this year. Beside the fact that it was in Technicolor (thank GOD), the recreations of The White House and the design for the Democratic National Convention were truly stunning for the time. If this movie were in black and white, I don’t think it would have had nearly the same impact as it did in color.

In terms of numbers, Wilson was nothing short of a box office flop. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck was so heartbroken over the movie’s failure that he forbade anyone who came into his presence from mentioning the film to him. However, the Academy disagreed. Wilson was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning 5, including: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Original Screenplay.

In a lineup of 40+ presidents, not all of them can be winners. While Woodrow Wilson may not have had the fame that Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan, Nixon and Obama would come to enjoy, he was nothing if not an eloquent, dedicated family man who wanted the best for the country and the people who inhabited it.


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