murder of a presidentComing to DVD today, Tuesday, February 9: MURDER OF A PRESIDENT

Rob Rapley’s consideration of the legacy of the 20th President of the United States made its world premiere on the PBS strand American Experience at the beginning of this month.

Rapley’s look at James A Garfield stems from Candice Millard’s book DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC: A TALE OF MADNESS, MEDICINE AND THE MURDER OF A PRESIDENT, which lays out the fuller breadth of concerns addressed than is suggested by the film’s more truncated title. While the program does focus much of its running time on the assassination attempt that precipitated Garfield’s lingering, untimely demise just four months after he took office, Rapley does an admirable job establishing the Ohio congressman’s credentials, charisma, and unusual rise to power against a sadly familiar backdrop of economic disparity and cronyism. In addition to making the case for Garfield as a proto-Kennedy or Obama, the film also sketches out several other key players, including his principled wife Lucretia, political enemy NY Senator Roscoe Conkling, unbalanced assassin and position seeker Charles Guiteau, and the president’s malpracticing personal physician, Dr Doctor Willard Bliss, who, it’s argued here, likely bears a fair amount of the blame for Garfield’s passing. Like several other tales made for American Experience, this one employs numerous re-enactments, and while they are professionally mounted, they ultimately add very little to the otherwise compelling proceedings except a hokey, old-fashioned feeling that’s distinctly out of step with modern nonfiction programming.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

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