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Life and career of the great American stage actor Edwin Booth, including his troubled brother, John Wilkes, who gained lasting infamy by assassinating President Abraham Lincoln.
In 1848, young Edwin Booth desperately searches for his father, famed actor Junius Brutus Booth, who is late for a performance. Ned finds Booth in a nearby saloon and drags the drunken actor to the theater, where Booth yells at the restive audience that he will give them the "damnedest King Lear they ever saw." After the performance, Ned struggles to keep Booth in their room, for Booth has an attack of his "madness" and tries to escape to go drinking. Soon, Ned and his father return home to Maryland, where they are greeted by Ned's older sister Asia and younger brother John Wilkes. After Booth regains his strength, he encourages John's acting, while the shy Ned longs for the attention lavished on his brother by Asia and Booth. Ned continues to tour with Booth, memorizing his repertory and attempting to keep him sober. In 1857, after Ned has grown to manhood and become one of the company's actors, he travels with Booth to San Francisco, where financier Dave Prescott has built a theater for the great actor. During their performance of Richard III , however, the ailing Booth cannot remember his lines, and afterward, tells Prescott that he is retiring. Booth gives his prop crown to Ned, and soon after, a nervous Prescott presents Ned at a rough mining camp. The miners are infuriated when they learn that Ned is the Booth they have paid to see, not his father, but after roaring that he will present "the damnedest Richard they have ever seen," Ned captivates the crowd with his performance. Prescott is baffled by Ned's disappearance after the show, and in the desert, alone, Ned cries out that he, not John, is his father's true successor. Terrified that he has inherited his father's mental instability as well as his talent, Ned gets drunk, and the next morning, is awakened by Prescott, who informs him that Booth is dead. Following his successful tour, Ned goes east, and at Ford's Theatre, watches John's well-received performance in The Taming of the Shrew . Asia and John assume that Ned will serve as John's manager, but Ned caustically informs John that he needs training and discipline. Stung by John's insulting reply, Ned declares that he paid with his childhood for the opportunity to become the next great Booth, and storms out. Ned then begins another tour, and in New Orleans, Mary Devlin, a member of his company, is forced to retrieve him from a bordello for a rehearsal. Ned is touched by Mary's impassioned reading of scene from Romeo and Juliet , and despite warnings from other actors that the Booths have a "taint" in them, Mary falls deeply in love with Ned. Although he fears that he will break Mary's heart, Ned soon reciprocates her feelings and the couple is married. Buoyed by Mary's devotion, Ned quits drinking and is acclaimed wherever he performs. One day, Ned receives a summons from Asia, who informs him that John, deeply jealous of Ned's success as an actor, has become involved in the Confederate cause. Asia sends Ned to Harper's Ferry, where John is awaiting the hanging of abolitionist John Brown, and there, Ned tries to persuade John to accompany him to London, where Ned is to begin a tour of Hamlet . John bitterly refuses, stating that to destroy greatness is to partake of it, and that he would rather play in the "mortal drama" of the war between the states. Ned and the now-pregnant Mary then travel to London, and on opening night, Mary suffers an attack due to her weak lungs. Ned pleads with her never to leave him, and after comforting him, Mary insists that he continue with his tour, which has been extended due to excellent reviews. One night, Mary gives birth to their daughter and Ned tenderly drapes an American flag over their bed to celebrate. Back in the United States, Asia discovers that John is acting as a courier for Confederate spies, and he laughingly responds to her outrage by stating that he has become the most valuable actor in the south. Mary and Ned eventually return to New York, although due to her illness, Mary is forced to leave for a drier climate. Ned attempts to equal his London success as Hamlet, but without Mary's steadying influence, is soon drinking and missing performances. Prescott writes to Mary, begging her to come home, but when she attempts to leave her bed, she suffers a fatal attack. Devastated by Mary's death, Ned ignores his family and the theater, choosing instead to kneel by her graveside every day. After a year passes, Ned summons Prescott and tells him that he is ready to return to acting and is confident that there is no madness he cannot overcome. Asia's happiness at Ned's recovery is doubled by the ending of the war, which she assumes will ensure John's safety. Asia and Ned are horrified, however, when John assassinates President Abraham Lincoln, and is then hunted down and killed. On 15 June 1865, Ned decides to re-open his Hamlet , despite the huge mob that gathers at the theater to protest against him and all actors. Although Prescott warns Ned that he will be lynched if he goes on, Ned declares that he owes it to his profession not to let John's actions ruin the lives of all actors. Ned takes the stage and sits silently as he is pelted with fruit and insults, until finally, the crowd grows quiet and one man shouts out that Ned has "got guts." Impressed by Ned's courage, the crowd applauds and cheers, while Ned looks up to the box where Mary always sat and remembers her recitation of Juliet's lines: "Goodnight, goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow."
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||New York opening: 10 Jan 1955|
|Release Date:||1955||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Color (DeLuxe)||Distributions Co:||Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono (Western Electric Sound System)||Production Co:||Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.|
|Duration(mins):||102 or 105||Country:||United States|
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Just saw part of this on the Fox Movie channel yesterday. Excellent film. A great opportunity to see Burton do Shakespeare. With all the other dreck from...
Watched to see Burton act Shakespeare,not realizing Edwin was THAT Booth's brother.Good to see John Derek,too.Loved seeing the performances out in the...
Prince of Players
Rob Brantley 2011-05-05
I saw part of this on TCM recently, and then sought another airing date and the website says that it is not scheduled. TCM, please get this film back on...