Infinity Entertainment // 1986 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // April 7th, 2010
"Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind." -- Teddy Roosevelt
It's safe to say that we will never have another president quite like Teddy Roosevelt. He was one of the manliest, boldest, and most centrist leaders ever to kick his feet up in the Oval Office. He got things done: he busted up monopolies, he established a national park system, he combined two oceans, and he made sure the U.S. was considered a major player on the world stage. Teddy wasn't worried about re-election or poll numbers, he just wanted to make sure he had enough time to practice Jiu-Jitsu and ride his horse 100 miles. You could say he was indomitable.
The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt, directed by Harrison Engle, is a 90-minute rundown of TR's life. It's a greatest hits collection, touching on the milestones and accomplishments of a historical figure who could probably fill an entire 10-part miniseries. The film is narrated quite nicely by George C. Scott (Patton), whose gravelly voice adds the right amount of gravitas to Theodore Strauss's flowery script.
The film trots out plenty of archival footage (TR was the first president to be filmed) and photos, but also features some straightforward dramatizations. According to Engle, this was one of the first documentaries to try and recreate scenes from history, and they got some heat for it. TR was played by Bob Boyd, who fits the part mainly because of a stellar mustache, and many of his family members were played by actual Roosevelts. The dramatization sequences are used mainly as a way to humanize Teddy, showing him with his family or playing with his voluminous children. It would have been nice to see him hunting some of the 296 animals he killed on his African safari, but alas that stuff is relegated to photos.
If there's any complaint about this thoroughly informative doc it's that there were a few episodes in TR's life that felt glossed over. His tenure as governor of New York gets just a mention, and his death arrives with a newspaper headline and a quick summary. Then there's the passing hint that Teddy fought some gunslinger in the Dakota Badlands -- how could that not get a dramatization? The film doesn't get distracted with these subplots, however, and remains focused on the big picture: the man, the rough rider, the regulator (I guess that places TR somewhere between DMX and Warren G).
For a made-for-television documentary, The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt holds up well in the A/V department. The dramatizations have that hazy, grainy, '80s feel to them, but the silent footage is stunningly clear. The Dolby stereo track is adequate, although the complete reliance on John Philip Sousa music does make the film, at times, feel like it's taking place on a merry-go-round. Sousa's music is classic Americana, but it occasionally undercuts the more dramatic moments in film.
This is the film's first appearance on DVD, and comes in a deceptively barren three-disc set. The second disc contains a brief, but informative, interview with Harrison Engle. He talks about the process of making the film, controversy surrounding the dramatizations, and its success on various cable channels. The rest of the disc, including quotes from TR, Sousa's biography, photo archive, and Teddy's 1905 inaugural address, is just static text. This stuff could have been included in a fancy booklet, rather than making us read it all on the screen. There's also an extensive track listing for the third disc, an audio CD of the film's Sousa soundtrack.
The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt is an educational and entertaining documentary that gets all the big stuff in there at just over 90 minutes. The supplements might be a little underwhelming, but Teddy Roosevelt is such a fascinating historical figure that this doc is worth renting with or without a CD full of Sousa.
There is one fact they left out: I'm pretty sure that TR's face carved itself into Mount Rushmore.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Infinity Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Text Features
* Bonus CD