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Vital Signs

Civil War Cinema

Life is short.  Although I am a devoted, if amateur, student of Hollywood’s treatment of the great American War of 1861-65, I intended to spare myself the ordeal of Spielberg’s Lincoln.  However, the honored editor of America’s bravest and best journal instructed me to go.  I have always found such instruction to be wise.  And so I bit the bitter pill, or swallowed the bullet, or whatever, and went.  You may regard me as having suffered in your behalf, Gentle Reader of Chronicles, and be relieved of the burden of attendance.

Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln, following in the footsteps of Walter Huston, Henry Fonda, Raymond Massey, Gregory Peck, and Sam Waterston—all better looking than the real thing.  One side of Lincoln’s face was deformed, he had moments of doddering unconsciousness from having been kicked in the head by a horse, and, as everyone noted, his arms were disproportionately long, which led his accomplices to call him “the Ape” behind his back.  But I suppose one should not complain about that: Actors and actresses are always better looking than the real-life people they mimic.

After all the praise lavished upon the Englishman Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln, including an Academy Award for best actor, I was surprised at how poor it was.  The appearance, as I have...

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