Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977)

          In this serviceable docudrama from Sunn Classic Pictures, the company behind myriad pseudoscience documentaries, a somewhat reasonable case is made that Confederate zealot John Wilkes Booth was asked to participate in a conspiracy that originated in Washington D.C., but then took his own initiative to murder President Abraham Lincoln and thereafter became the perfect patsy for the very people who once tried to use him. The Lincoln Conspiracy even goes so far as to suggest that the man whom authorities claimed they shot dead following a manhunt was not Booth, and that witnesses were paid to give false testimony about Booth’s activities as a means of making the whole affair go away. As with most conspiracy theories, the problem is a lack of conclusive proof. Although various assertions are persuasive, viable counter-arguments abound.
          Comprising dramatic scenes and historical re-enactments, The Lincoln Conspiracy begins at the end of the tale, with the execution of Booth’s historically documented accomplices. Then, with the rich tones of Brad Crandall’s narration leading the way, the film flashes back to vignettes explaining how Booth and his Southern cronies made plans that ran parallel with the scheming of Northern politicians, who wanted Lincoln neutralized for their own reasons. Chief among those reasons was the fear of Southern politicians reclaiming their stature in the U.S. Congress. It all makes a certain kind of sense, and yet at the same time it all seems like malarkey, so The Lincoln Conspiracy fits the Sunn Classic brand of enjoyably irresponsible provocation.
          Bradford Dillman gives a pleasantly campy performance as Booth, while costar John Dehner lends cartoonish gravitas to the role of northern conspirator Col. Lafayette C. Baker. Playing Lincoln in a few inconsequential scenes is avuncular John Anderson. There’s a bit of derring-do every so often, such as a chase scene or a gunfight, but most of the picture comprises people talking in rooms. The filmmakers explain machinations and motivations well, so it’s easy to follow along—perhaps too easy, seeing as how much of the narrative is spoon-fed. Furthermore, it’s peculiar that the filmmakers avoided depicting key moments of the narrative, such as Booth’s infamous leap from Lincoln’s box at the Ford Theatre to the stage. In any event, The Lincoln Conspiracy is fun to watch, whether you consume it as sensationalist silliness or troubling agitprop, because the folks at Sunn Classic were experts at exploiting viewers’ fascination with the unknown. 

The Lincoln Conspiracy: FUNKY

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