Eleanor Roosevelt, perhaps the most famous (and almost certainly the
most influential) First Lady in U.S. history, was mourned by all on
her death in 1962. While the immediacy of her impact on the society
of the U.S. and indeed the world has faded with the passing years,
it's still fresh in the documentary The Eleanor Roosevelt Story,
made only three years after her death.
The Eleanor Roosevelt Story takes a straightforward
biographical approach to its subject. After a brief segment showing
her funeral, the program starts with Eleanor as a child, outlining
her unhappy years as the "ugly duckling" in a family of
beautiful society belles. (Incidentally, Roosevelt was her maiden as
well as her married name: Franklin was her fifth cousin.) We follow
her through her youth and her life-changing marriage to young
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, at which point the purely personal life
that we've been seeing becomes a political life as well; right up
until her death, Eleanor Roosevelt would be in the public eye,
working hard to promote social justice and human rights for all
If you're particularly interested in Eleanor Roosevelt's life story,
The Eleanor Roosevelt Story will certainly be worthwhile
viewing material. It's a shade too elegiac for my tastes, though
that's not surprising given that when it was created it was a very
recent "film memorial" to her. The narration is a bit on
the bland side, presenting the events of her life and the causes with
which she was involved in a very straightforward manner; we get a
surface treatment rather than a deeper exploration of the material.
What's most of interest in The Eleanor Roosevelt Story is the
glimpse it provides into the turbulent world events during Eleanor's
life. The early segments of the program use mainly still photographs
of Eleanor and her family to illustrate the narration, but once we
get to her involvement with the Red Cross in World War I, the
archival material becomes more interesting, including rare WWI battle
footage. The segment on her humanitarian
efforts during the Great Depression is also quite interesting; it
would be interesting to see a more detailed documentary just on this
topic. As the program moves closer to its own time, we get to see
footage showing her involvement in World War II, mainly as FDR's
"eyes and ears," as well as her efforts to champion civil
liberties in an era that was growing stridently anti-Communist.
This 1965 documentary is itself made up of older archival material,
so it's no surprise to see that the image is in fairly rough shape.
The black-and-white film is presented in what seems to be its
original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and it's watchable, earning an
average mark for its transfer quality. There's a substantial amount
of print flaws in the image, including in the more "modern"
footage, and we also get some instances of jiggling or distortion of
the image, as if the DVD transfer were copied from a VHS tape.
Overall, the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack gets an average mark, like the
video quality. The main narrator's voice is clear and easy to
understand, if a little soft, but the periodic moments of narration
by others, such as Eleanor's childhood friend Mrs. Francis Cole, are
of much worse quality, sounding both muffled and tinny.
The only special feature is a three-minute video introduction from
Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Eleanor Roosevelt Story provides a nice capsule biography of the
famous First Lady, who grew from a shy, unappreciated girl to become
an outspoken champion of social justice and eventually the chair of
the U.N. commission for human rights. If you're particularly
interested in the subject, I'd recommend this DVD; otherwise, it's
probably best as a rental, mainly because it's a fairly general
overview that takes more of an elegiac tone, celebrating Eleanor
Roosevelt's accomplishments, rather than examining her impact on the
events of the day with any detail or depth. The archival footage of
WWI, the Depression, and other important events in U.S. history will
be of interest to history buffs, though. I'll give this a solid "rent