Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Robby Benson, Julie Harris, Michael Cristofer
THE LAST OF MRS. LINCOLN (1976). Producer/director: George Schaefer. Based on the play by James Prideaux. Broadway Theater Archive DVD.

"We may have been the first family, but we were far from rich."

"After your father was taken from us, people said it would get easier. But it doesn't. It gets harder."

"It is not the years that age us, but loneliness."

Recreating the Broadway show, The Last of Mrs. Lincoln was presented as a telefilm on PBS in 1976. It is wonderful that there will always be a permanent record of Julie Harris' superb performance as Mary Todd Lincoln in the days after the assassination of her husband. Then she has to deal with the death [after already losing two other children and a husband] of her 18-year-old son, Tad (Robby Benson), and what she wrongly sees as the betrayal of her oldest son Robert (Michael Cristofer) when he is forced to have her institutionalized when she has a nervous breakdown. She comes to the home of her sister (Priscilla Morrill), who after all these years still doesn't think Abraham Lincoln was worthy of her. [A great scene in a play full of many has Mary telling off an old biddy (Kate Wilkinson) who has supposedly come calling out of friendship but really just wants to crow.] Mary bonds with a young nephew (Patrick Duffy) who has more respect for her and her memories than almost everyone else around her. Benson and Cristofer are excellent in a stellar cast without a bad performance. The play takes incidents in history and makes them come alive, fleshing out these people in a way no history book could. Although it's excellent at delineating a certain time and place [from 1865 Chicago to Springfield many years later], it also reveals some universal truths. Cristofer later wrote the play The Shadow Box (which was also made into a telefilm) and now appears on the TV show Smash.

Verdict: A masterpiece. ****.

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