The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977)

  • Year: 1977
  • Released: 01 Oct 1977
  • Country: United States
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: English
  • MPA Rating: G
  • Genre: Drama
  • Runtime: 90 min
  • Writer: David W. Balsiger, Jonathan Cobbler, Charles E. Sellier Jr.
  • Director: James L. Conway
  • Cast: Bradford Dillman, John Dehner, Whit Bissell
  • Keywords: assassination, civil war, treason, alternate history, speculative, usa history,

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The Lincoln Conspiracy Movie Reviews

Alternate history

I remember seeing The Lincoln Conspiracy back when it first came out and then it seems to have faded from sight. Does anyone know if it is to be on television or a DVD to come out?

This film gained a bit of currency when it came out at the time that Frank Church’s Committee in the Senate was investigating our CIA and its involvement in foreign assassination plots over the years. In that sense The Lincoln Conspiracy found an audience which gave it more than a skeptical view.

Four reliable character actors and no box office names carried this picture. Robert Middleton as Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Bradford Dillman as John Wilkes Booth and John Anderson as Abraham Lincoln filled these roles out admirably and fitted my conception of these characters.

John Dehner who was always one of the most reliable character actors around plays the elusive and mysterious Union spymaster Lafayette C. Baker. He’s the prime mover of the events and alternate history you see portrayed here. Dehner is properly sinister and mysterious as he directs events from behind the scenes. Our best historians of the Civil War era have never really assigned a proper place for Baker, but John Dehner got a career role from him.

If this film ever sees the light of day again, by all means check it out.

In Search Of John Wilkes Booth…

First off, I’m not going to waste my time in a movie review debunking the revisionist history of an American incident that has already been studied and researched properly for all to read for themselves. I will, however, tell you that the whole basis of the Lincoln Conspiracy myth comes almost entirely from the papers of Andrew G. Potter, the name of a nonexistent person who allegedly served in the National Detective Agency and whose existence has never been confirmed anywhere in the archives of the NDP much less in public census records. Just who this man really was will never be solved, but his so-called research is so filled with obvious mistakes, fictional characters and misinformation that its provenance, further muddled by the accusations of Otto Eisenschiml and Finis Bates, can hardly be considered reputable. It is from this slanted alternate history that the “Lincoln Conspiracy” is based. Narrated by Brad Crandall, the authoritative and seemingly omniscient voice of several Sunn Classic films like “In Search of Noah’s Ark” and “The Bermuda Triangle,” the movie centers on the last years of the Civil War, and Lincoln’s optimistic plan to welcome the Confederacy back without malice, something that irks his supporters. Lincoln is played by veteran actor John Anderson, who has played Lincoln several times, but while he looks good in the role, he lacks all of the personality or charisma actors like Daniel Day Lewis or Lance Henriksen have created. Character actor Bradford Dillman plays John Wilkes Booth flatly and wooden, taking moments to play up the role in a stereotypical Snidely Whiplash manner. The plot suggests Stanton has been helping Booth support the South with secret codes and maps with Colonel Lafayette Baker as Booth’s handler. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. Most of the movie is centered around Baker played by John Dehner, another well-known character actor from the Sixties, and despite the ludicrous plot, he does a fairly straight job of it with an extended cast of the movie includes several well-known actors of the 60s and 70s, such as Whit Bissell from “Time Tunnel,” Ben Jones and Sonny Shroyer from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” Fred Grandy from “The Love Boat” and Ken Kercheval of “Dallas.” Under Stanton’s guidance, the motley band intends to help Booth kidnap Lincoln so he’ll be out of the way for a hostile take- over of the South, a plan circumvented when Stanton frees a Confederate soldier named James William Boyd. History takes over briefly afterward with important details contradictory to the conspiracy myth either ignored or dropped to shorten the length of the movie, like the fact the assassination is reduced to a gunshot heard behind the scenes and screams of “They shot the President!” Ignored is the attack on Seward, huge emotional sorrow, the huge outcry and the frenzy that followed in the search for Lincoln’s assassin we’ve seen in movies like “Killing Lincoln” and “The Day Lincoln was Shot.” Inaccuracies pour outward in this supposedly true account like the fictional Potter brothers searching for Booth. It’s bad enough the movie passes off these incidents as true, but the preposterous levels of disbelief happening here are beyond insane. Even Mudd’s involvement is insultingly reduced to a mere cameo in a hurry to force this false history down our throats. There is a reason Conspiracists have never found proof of this myth; it doesn’t exist. “The Lincoln Conspiracy” is a cheaply made movie with fine actors playing weak to credible characters in less than believable scenes in a preposterous plot that it wants us to believe actually happened, but if anything, it makes the myth look that much more unbelievable. It’s better as alternate history than a dramatic recreation, but even then, the level of absurdity and cheapness in this film makes it difficult to accept seriously. This is without a doubt the worst movie about Abraham Lincoln that anyone could see.

Quite Entertaining!

The scintillating aura of intrigue infusing Sunn Classic’s THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY is intoxicating & addictive. Easily the company’s most respectable golden era production, Bradford Dillman overacts and hams his way through the film in the role of John Wilkes Booth portrayed as a wild-eyed fanatic willing to go to any lengths to save the war for the south. He’s equal part revolutionary, fall guy, idealist crackpot and stooge. Who was responsible for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? According to this movie everyone but Booth, though it politely concedes that he did pull the trigger.

In fact the assassination itself gets very little screen time, just a minute or two really, as the film breathlessly writes an alternate version of the history leading up to & immediately after the event. Along the way we meet Booth’s motley crew of would-be Presidential kidnappers turned would-be assassins (only Booth succeeded in what is depicted as a hair brained scheme for glory with the war soundly over) who seem to spend a lot of time decorating the interiors of pubs and taverns as they drink themselves into revolutionary frenzy. Not a scene goes by without Booth or one of his cronies quaffing a brandy or two, probably likely for the time but so pervasive as to suggest that Booth likely had a good buzz going when he finally decided the time was nigh.

The film is stolen however by character actor John Dehner’s hypnotic performance as Colonel Lafayette Baker, an actual character from history & bizarre footnote of real life intrigue who is depicted here as the film’s Fletcher Prouty (a fun name to Google if you’re ever bored). Baker was an opportunist who found himself with a Union Army commission after fast-talking a general with yet another hair brained scheme to infiltrate Confederate lines as a spy. His plan worked with enough success to bring him to the attention of Lincoln and his cabinet who were looking for someone delighted with violating what we now regard as the civil & Constitutional rights of citizens to further the war effort. Even with such a fascinating genuine tale the film re-writes Baker with an almost supernatural aura to him as he manipulates, intimidates, violates and generally abuses everyone he comes in contact with to further the plot to remove Lincoln from office cooked up by his boss, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, depicted here as a James Bond villain.

In spite of the clunky and uninspired manner in which the story is told it is compulsively watchable, especially as one starts to appreciate the twisted glee in Colonel Baker’s character as he unassumingly arranges for his President to be deposed, then reacts with a raised eyebrow & shrug upon learning of his murder. Just one of those things, really, with my favorite moment in the film a question to a character about why he is limping. Baker doesn’t care beyond his need for an efficient footman, and the ultimate triple cross which condemns the poor hobbling creep is a brilliant maneuver in roundabout screenplay logic. The film couldn’t end any other way than it does with John Wilkes Booth escaping to England where he becomes a cheese farmer.

Not really, but then again the film has a surreal quality to it that belies its ordinariness, highlighted by a droning, sonorous faux-documentary narration provided by Sunn Classic’s resident voice of authority, Brad Crandall. Crandall is the bespeckled heavy-set host of their megahits BEYOND AND BACK, THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, and my favorite, IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK which I had the good fortune to see as a nine year old on a rainy Saturday afternoon. The film stuck with me for thirty five years and so did this, specifically a scene where John Anderson’s foghorn voiced Lincoln hands out slices of apple on screen to a startled Union solder aide, a little aside that also stuck with me for 30 years after seeing it on television.

Is it good history? No, Booth’s guilt is pretty solidly established without a conspiracy amongst members of Congress concerned about a Democrat supermajority upon reuniting north & south. Is it a good film? I doubt it, I’ve only seen the thing on TV and doubt that a widescreen format would improve much upon the movie’s flat-footed cinematography. Episodes of “Barney Miller” were filmed with more panache, though I give it high marks for being so downright odd, like every other Sunn Classics film I’ve seen now as an adult. And it is a very entertaining little bit of alternate history what if? which must have been screened by Oliver Stone and his associates when preparing JFK. It’s just as ridiculous in its overkill but comes off as easier to stomach, less frantic and more content with letting the story tell itself. It’s also addictive, I must have watched it about a dozen times. Colonel Baker is a fix!