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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Eleanor Roosevelt Story
The Eleanor Roosevelt Story
Kino // Unrated // July 6, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted August 11, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

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 people.

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.

The DVD

Video

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.

Audio

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.

Extras

The only special feature is a three-minute video introduction from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Final thoughts

The 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 it."

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