Sal Litvak’s [interview with Sal here] independent movie about Lincoln, Saving Lincoln, came on the heels of Steven Spielberg’s magnificent tour de force, and so it inevitably was unfairly compared with that masterpiece. The low budget with which Litvak worked necessarily limited the effects and the pricey talent available to him. The movie looks at Abraham Lincoln’s life from Illinois lawyer to murdered President through the eyes of Ward Hill Lamon, who was his law partner in Illinois and a self-appointed bodyguard in Washington. Some of the effects were very cheesy, such as when Lincoln and Lamon are riding in a carriage on the way to meet McClellan after the Battle of Antietam and you can easily see they’re in a stationary carriage being rocked up and down while the scenery moves around them.
Litvak’s movie is creatively done in a style he calls CineCollage. The movie was filmed in front of a green screen and actual photos from the 1860s were used as the background. So you see the actors and some props in color, but the background is black and white. It gives the film an odd quality that sets it apart from just about every other movie, but it also means that the background you see isn’t a set director’s idea of what the 1860s looked like, but the actual 1860s. While it was distracting at first, once you get used to it I think it works very well.
This is a movie, not a history book, and sometimes the historical errors are just mind-boggling, such as Lamon telling Lincoln that he was going to be “marshal of ceremonies” for the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg and then Lamon inviting Lincoln to go with him to present a few appropriate remarks. Tom Amandes, who plays Lincoln, has a voice that is too deep.
See another review here.
Altogether, I liked the movie. It’s not going to compare favorably with Spielberg’s Lincoln, but there are more entertaining parts than groaning parts. Penelope Ann Miller, I thought, gave a terrific performance as Mary Lincoln. While Amandes’ voice is too deep, he also gives a creditable performance as Lincoln. Lea Coco is Lamon, and he does a good job as well, particularly in handling the banjo. There are some glaring weaknesses. There seems to be no effort put forth to make historical characters look authentic. At least Lincoln has his beard and was clean-shaven prior to his arrival in Washington to be inaugurated. But the actors playing Stephen Douglas, Salmon Chase, Charles Sumner, William Seward, and others look nothing like their historical characters. In listening to the commentary, it’s obvious Nina Litvak, Sal’s wife and collaborator in the movie, has learned a little history but mixes it up quite a bit. Sal’s historical understanding is much better than Nina’s, and thankfully he guided the movie in a far better historical direction than Nina would have. See the movie, but realize that this is a Lincoln movie unlike any other Lincoln movie you’ve seen before, that it may be a bit disconcerting to you, but ultimately there are moving scenes and scenes that will make you smile. Not everyone will like the movie. There were parts I didn’t like. But it at least gives us a very creative approach to making this movie.