Sunday, February 10, 2013

The President's Lady

I briefly mentioned The President's Lady a week or so ago, and pointed out that it's airing tomorrow, February 11, at 8:45 AM on the Fox Movie Channel, so now's your chance to watch it.

The movie is based on a novel by Irving Stone, the same man who gave us Lust For Life about Vincent Van Gogh. This time, the subjects are future US President Andrew Jackson (played by Charlton Heston), and his titular Lady, Rachel Donelson Robards (played by Susan Hayward). The movie begins around 1790, with Heston showing up at the inn in what is now Nashville, Tennessee run by the Donelson family, the matriarch being played by Fay Bainter. Jackseon falls in love with the daughter Rachel, although there's a catch: she's married. Well, she's separated from her husband, Captain Robards (Whitfield Connor), but they haven't been able to get a divorce. The not-so-good Captain is about to return, and Mrs. Donelson suggests Rachel go down to the new territory of Mississippi to get away from him, and that Andrew accompany her for her safety. When Andrew saves Rachel from an Indian attack, she discovers that the feeling he has for her is mutual. Still, there's that pesky marriage. Eventually, however, Rachel is informed that Captain Robards has gotten a divorce from her, so she's free to become Mrs. Andrew Jackson.

But wait, there's more! Captain Robards is such a jerk that he never really finalized the divorce, which means that the marriage between Rachel and Andrew is legally invalid. Now, in real life, Rachel was then able to file for divorce, and heaven knows she would have had grounds for it. She finally got the divorce decree in 1794 and remarried Andrew in a valid ceremony leading to a marriage that lasted 'til death them did part, as the language in wedding ceremonies more or less goes. But that invalid marriage was going to be a problem, because it means that even though they thought they were being perfectly upstanding, there are going to be people who believe the two were living in sin. (As if sin were a bad thing.) This is a problem considering that Andrew gets involved in politics, eventually running for President against John Quincy Adams. Adams' supporters are certain to use the "invalid marriage" canard against Jackson, and since there was an invalid marriage, even though that invalidity was rectified, it's going to be difficult to set the record straight in the days of the 1820s when there wasn't the vast and easy access to information that we have today.

The President's Lady is a perfectly competent movie. Heston and Hayward both do a capable job with their roles, and the story is certainly quite interesting. With a running time of about 95 minutes, however, there's even more interesting stuff from Jackson's real life that had to be cut out. Unfortunately, The President's Lady was filmed in black and white. Historical dramas are a genre of movie that always benefited from the use of color photography, which one can clearly see if one looks at the gorgeous sets and location photography of Stone's later film adaptation Lust for Life. By comparison, The President's Lady looks like the studio movie it is, and that's a shame. An entertaining and pretty darn good shame, to be sure, but a shame nonetheless. This isn't to suggest that The President's Lady isn't worth watching, however; there are other very good historical dramas that clearly look studio-bound, such as Rembrandt.

I don't believe The President's Lady has received a DVD release.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I've only heard the radio version of this with Joan Fontaine; it had some light comedic moments not always present in historical dramas, and overall I found it to be very entertaining.