Release Date(s)1953 (August 20, 2019)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D
The President’s Lady (1953) is a sentimental account of the relationship between Andrew Jackson (Charlton Heston) and Rachel Donelson (Susan Hayward) based on the historic novel by Irving Stone.
Jackson meets Rachel at her parents’ home in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1791 and there’s an immediate mutual attraction. Rachel is in a troubled marriage to Kentucky landowner Lewis Robards (Whitfield Connor), so her mother (Fay Bainter) suggests she get far away from her faithless, jealous husband. A riverboat journey to visit Rachel’s aunt in Natchez, Mississippi, would be just the ticket. But there’s considerable danger along the river from marauding Indians, so Jackson volunteers to accompany Rachel. An Indian attack does occur, and draws Jackson and Rachel closer together.
In Natchez, Jackson receives a note from his law partner, John Overton (John McIntire), that Robards has divorced Rachel. Jackson and Rachel marry, only to learn two years later that Robards lied about the divorce and only recently had it granted, but on the grounds that Rachel has committed adultery, a false allegation. Rachel is mortified and Jackson is furious. In the eyes of the public, they have been living in sin. Jackson puts a hold on his political career.
Called unflattering names and spurned by society, Rachel puts up with the hurtful attacks to support her husband in his career and he supports her, even challenging a man to a duel to defend her honor.
Heston and Hayward’s excellent screen chemistry makes their characters’ relationship believable. Heston completed this picture before The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur made him a superstar. He plays Jackson with righteous indignation and anger, capturing the unbridled spirit of the man who would become president. In the later scenes, the make-up department transforms him into the white-haired elderly statesman we’ve come to know from period portraits and the $20 bill.
Brooklyn-born Hayward was the reigning star at 20th Century-Fox at the time and had been in movies since 1937. She was nominated as Best Actress for 1949’s My Foolish Heart and 1952’s With a Song in My Heart, finally winning in 1959 for I Want to Live. She portrays Rachel as a sturdy frontierswoman, unafraid to work in the fields. Although eager to be accepted by polite society, she is determined not to apologize or make excuses for what she is unfairly accused of. Despite her rugged, proud carriage, she is horrified to be unjustly afflicted with such a damning reputation. Hayward, 36 at the time, ages in the film from 24 – when Rachel met Jackson – to 61.
Jackson’s heroic military exploits and his political life provide the background to the personal story of a man and the woman he loved. Strong-willed and combative, Jackson today has a reputation tarnished by his harsh treatment of his slaves, his forcible removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands, and his intemperate brawling. Though the movie shows that Jackson owned slaves, they are depicted as well treated. Much of the latter part of the movie takes place at The Hermitage, Jackson’s Nashville plantation.
The title might suggest that the film was intended to be a woman’s picture, but The President’s Lady, directed by Henry Levin, is a frontier adventure as well as a character study and a romance.
The Unrated Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p High Definition resolution, is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Visual quality is sharp throughout, with no noticeable imperfections in the print. Quality is impressive for a film that is over 60 years old. The black-and-white photography by Leo Tover has a rich, silvery tone, and is especially lush in the outdoor scenes. The movie has been divided into 24 chapter headings for easy access to specific scenes.
The soundtrack provided is English 1.0 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. English subtitles are available for the deaf and hard of hearing. Sound is distinct throughout. Gunfire and a cannon blast are sweetened for dramatic effect, and a fist fight contains the sounds of fists hitting bodies with realistic results. A fiery arrow hitting a bale of cotton on the boat Rachel and Jackson are on makes a swooshing sound, signaling danger. A crowd scene in which Jackson is speaking contains background mutterings and ambient noise, all balanced well. Individual comments from the crowd are clearly heard.
The 98-minute Region-Free Blu-ray is released as a Limited Edition of 3,000 units. Bonus materials include an isolated music soundtrack, a vintage radio show, a theatrical trailer, the Twilight Time catalogue, and a booklet.
Isolated Music Track – The Alfred Newman score is heard with dialogue and sound effects muted as the film plays.
Vintage Radio Show – This is the complete radio drama of The President’s Lady, aired on September 28, 1953, and starring Charlton Heston recreating his movie role as Andrew Jackson and Joan Fontaine as Rachel Jackson.
Twilight Time Catalogue – Twilight Time Blu-ray releases from 2011 through 2019 are listed in a click-on menu.
Booklet – An 8-page insert booklet features a critical essay, 4 black-and-white photos from the film, and a full-color reproduction of the film’s poster.
– Dennis Seuling