Back at the start of this trip through the history of Great War Films, back before I’d typed one word of review, I made a list. I scoured the internet, Wikipedia, IMDB, and everywhere else and from there generated my film list. I searched Youtube for any films in the public domain and one of the first ones I found was ‘Wilson’ (1944). I skipped through to a few spots in the film, was this going to be a hidden gem? It didn’t look like it on the face of the scant few seconds I’d viewed. In fact it looked pretty bad.
Off the back of that abridged viewing I turned my nose up whenever I was casting around for a Great War Film to watch and review. It never quite made it to the top of the pile as Great War Film after Great War Film got trotted out in its’ place. Finally, and just over three years down the track, I got round to it. And frankly, I wish I hadn’t bothered.
‘Wilson’ (1944) is a biopic (‘bi oh pic’ or ‘bi opic’?) covering the Presidential and Great War years of 28th US President Woodrow Wilson. My knowledge of ol’ Woodrow is minimal if I’m honest. From documentaries I kind of thought of him as a bit of a wet blanket. An overtly racist, bookish, peacenik with a limp penis and a damp handshake (or was it the other way round?). Either way you get the point. From doing a little further reading on him I’ve found out this is, for the most part, true.
Look at the year, 1944. The World was at war and Producer Darryl F. Zanuck had just returned to his day job as a movie producer following a four year tour of duty in the Army. He’d pocketed sand from a Nazi occupied beach in France and sent it back to the Mrs. He’d filmed the blitz in London and drank champagne as he marvelled at the view of anti-aircraft fire. What was he going to do next for the war effort? Maybe knock out a jingoist, rabble rousing, picture or two. Why not.
With the film clocking in with a two and a half hours running time I thought the story was going to cover a lot of ground but in reality it doesn’t. The story starts in 1910 or so with Wilson as the President of Princetown University. He comes across as a light-hearted, self-effacing and down to earth chap with a loving family. He orates heavily from the get go and within seconds I’ve noted my first bug-bear with the film. Verbatim, elongated speeches pop up frequently throughout the film and my brain turns off instantly. It took me four goes in total to get through this film and the main reason for this is that I kept falling asleep with my eyes open whenever he went off on one of his lengthy discourses.
It really is an immensely boring film, annoyingly boring. But then what was I really expecting? It was never going to be a barnstorming, rip-snorting, action fest. But even so biopics tend to find something in the story to interest the paying public. Not so with this one I’m afraid. The writer seems happy to have trotted out long, verbatim, stenographed speeches followed by inconsequential family moments followed by back room chatter as elections are being won and lost. Nothing happens, then continues to happen and then carries on happening for ever and ever and ever.
The family moments are ‘Vomit in your own mouth’ stuff as Woody, his wife and their three perfect, virgin and impregnable daughters sing songs around the family piano. ‘Oh Daddy, do play the one about the Klansmen Lynching the black folk’. I might’ve dreamed that bit during one of my mid-film snoozes. And then his wife dies and there’s absolutely no sense of loss detectable in the acting of Woody or any of his virginal offspring.
As I said at the start, I’m no expert on Woodrow Wilson so can’t really make any comment on how realistic the film is. What I can say is that no matter how realistic it is it’s fucking boring. Long slow scenes of nothing, followed by boring speech, followed by inconsequential chit chat followed by another bloody speech.
So are there any good bits? I liked it when Vincent Price briefly reared his vampiric head. I liked it when there was a section with original news reel footage. I liked it when it ended. In conclusion this was a film made for a purpose. In a time of war this movie was made to remind the American public of goodies and baddies, right and wrong, them and us. It isn’t particularly good or entertaining or significant for any reason I can fathom. It’s just a boring waste of my time. My advice to you, dear reader, steer well clear. Do anything else. Cut your toenails, tell someone you love them, balance the books, anything. Just don’t watch this movie.