The President’s Lady (1953)

HENRY LEVIN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

USA, 1953. . Screenplay by , based on the novel by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by .

Well-intentioned but corny piece of Americana fluff that fictionalizes the romance between the seventh American President, that Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (), and his wife Sarah Donelson (). After lodging with her family in their walled-in Tennessee station, young soldier and lawyer Jackson falls madly in love with Sarah and decides he doesn’t care that she’s already married, knowing her to be miserable with her jealous, unkind husband. Eventually she is granted a divorce, but the legality of it is more complicated than they at first assumed and, after having jumped the gun at the altar, the couple find out that they unintentionally committed bigamy and have made themselves pariahs in their community.

Moving up the ranks of the military and succeeding in the law do Jackson a great deal of good, especially judging by the giant manor they move in to, but the stain of their scandal remains, most of it placed on Sarah’s shoulders as she is shunned by pious members of the smart set. Promising her that he will raise her above all women, Jackson goes much further than most lovelorn suitors do by eventually making her the country’s First Lady, but it’s a pleasure that is short-lived thanks to the limits placed upon her by her frailty of human flesh (history conveniently accedes to what the censors would have wanted, one of the few times that the film manages to be reasonably accurate).

Dates and timelines are skewered in most of the screenplay, their adopted indigenous son Lincoya’s life is cut down by quite a few years and their two other children have been removed completely, but Heston and Hayward, while never exactly setting the screen on fire, do have a friendly, congenial chemistry that at least makes you root for them in their most dire of circumstances. Period details are only partly convincing, its vision of colonial America is given the same storybook treatment that the couple’s romance is, but Hayward manages to shine despite not playing one of her trademark rough anti-heroes.

Academy Award Nominations: Best Art Direction-BW; Best Costume Design-BW

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