20th Century-Fox Archive Releases 'Wilson' (1944)

Probably most famous as studio head Darryl F. Zanuck’s biggest and most embarrassing flop, “Wilson,” a big-budget, Technicolor hagiography of President Woodrow Wilson, finally arrives on DVD courtesy of the 20th Century-Fox Archive Collection.

Though I’m no fan of Wilson the man — a big government nanny and virulent racist — I do love big-budget, studio-era biopics, no matter how whitewashed. Unfortunately, 70 years have only confirmed how wise 1944 audiences were to stay away in droves. While lovely to look at, “Wilson” is stilted, episodic, and laughably preachy.

Character actor Alexander Knox does what he can in the lead role. But it’s obvious from the beginning that Zanuck’s well-intentioned desire to give WWII-era Americans a patriotic and inspiring story of a principled American leader desperate for peace just couldn’t translate into a compelling narrative or character study. Wilson is too perfect, the story is too then-this-happened and then-that-happened, and the noble moments of exposition backed by a patriotic score only serve to inspire a roll of the eyes.

WWII-era Hollywood (and Zanuck) enjoyed many more hits than misses when aiming to lionize patriotism, American values, sincerity, and integrity. Unfortunately, “Wilson” is charmless, humorless, dry, and takes itself way too seriously.

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