Rob Edelman: One Past President

Mar 26, 2018

How many times have we heard our president, Donald Trump, label himself the all-time best-ever American political leader? In his view, the lone exception just may be Abraham Lincoln. But then again, maybe not. Well, now is as good a time as any to revisit American history and familiarize ourselves with the lives and times of other American presidents. Their histories have unfolded in plenty of documentaries; one, for example, is titled THE INDOMITABLE TEDDY ROOSEVELT. Its producer and director is Harrison Engle; it dates from 1983; its narrator is George C. Scott; and Flicker Alley recently released it to home entertainment.

THE INDOMITABLE TEDDY ROOSEVELT is an ideal title for what is a full-bodied portrait of our first President Roosevelt, who was the 26th President of the United States. The film stresses that Teddy Roosevelt was more than just a politician and statesman. Much more. He was an explorer, an author, and a naturalist. We are made privy to various aspects of his life; a rainbow of information is included here starting with his childhood, his parents, his early disappointments, his years as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War, and his involvement in the construction of the Panama Canal. Of special note are his devotion to conservation, his development of national parks, monuments, and forests, and his vivacious personality. Most tellingly, we are allowed a peek into his political acumen. THE INDOMITABLE TEDDY ROOSEVELT also is loaded with anecdotes. For instance, his sincere boyishness is ever-so-apparent when, during his presidency, he is shown to be relaxing over a campfire and telling tall tales to a group of children. And throughout, TR is quoted. He observes, “I stand for fair play” and a “square deal.” 

Ultimately, THE INDOMITABLE TEDDY ROOSEVELT, which combines newsreel and documentary footage, clips from silent-era features, and staged recreations of its subject, is not so much a biography as a history lesson. It is a portrait of a celebrated American who was, in his day, “the most entertaining man in America, and the people love him.” One revealing observation charts an event that occurred in 1910, post-presidency but prior to the onset of the First World War. Roosevelt finds himself in London, attending the funeral of King Edward VII. “Together for the last time, the kings of Europe jostled for rank in the procession,” it is noted in the narration. And Teddy Roosevelt? Well, it is reported on the soundtrack that “Roosevelt walks behind the others, as an ordinary American citizen.”

Teddy Roosevelt happens to be one of four U.S. presidents whose heads are famously sculpted atop Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The others are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. A while back, Donald Trump reportedly joked that his likeness should be added to Mount Rushmore. However, as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise, he never will cut it as figure number five...

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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