|Directed by||William Dieterle|
|Produced by||J. Walter Ruben
Irving Asher (uncredited)
|Written by||Milton Gunzburg (story)
Alvin Meyers (story)
John L. Balderston
|Release dates||December 1942|
|Running time||103 minutes|
Tennessee Johnson is a 1942 American film about Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was directed by William Dieterle and written by Milton Gunzburg, Alvin Meyers, John Balderston, and Wells Root. It starred Van Heflin as Johnson, Lionel Barrymore as his nemesis Thaddeus Stevens, and Ruth Hussey as Eliza McCardle Johnson. The film depicts the events building up to the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and "presents its title character as Lincoln’s worthy successor who runs afoul of vindictive Radical Republicans." It is somewhat historically inaccurate: among other errors, the film's climax depicts Johnson passionately delivering an oration in his own defense on the U.S. Senate floor near the end of his impeachment trial. In fact, Johnson never appeared in person at his trial and was represented by legal counsel only.
Runaway tailor's apprentice Andrew Johnson (Van Heflin) wanders into the Tennessee town of Greeneville. He is persuaded to settle there. He barters his services to the librarian, Eliza McCardle (Ruth Hussey), in return for her teaching him to read and write and eventually marries her.
Stung by the injustice of the monopoly of power by the landowners and with the encouragement of his wife, Johnson starts organizing political meetings. One is broken up by the powers that be; in the resulting fighting, one of Johnson's friends is killed. He dissuades the others from resorting to violence. Instead, he is talked into running for sheriff and is elected. By 1860, the eve of the American Civil War, he has risen to state senator.
When war breaks out, Johnson breaks with his state and stays loyal to the Union. As a general, he becomes a hero defending Nashville against a siege. Abraham Lincoln chooses him for his vice president in part because they share similar views on reconciling with the South after the war is won, unlike powerful, vengeful Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Lionel Barrymore). When Lincoln is assassinated, Johnson succeeds to the presidency.
After he refuses to accept a deal offered by Stevens, the latter starts impeachment proceedings against the president, with himself as chief prosecutor. Johnson stays away from the trial on the advice of men who fear he would lose his temper. With his cabinet members denied the right to testify however, Johnson appears at the very end and makes a stirring speech, an event which never actually occurred. The vote is close, with 35 judging him guilty and 18 not, but Senator Huyler is unconscious and unable to vote. Stevens, who is counting on him, delays the final verdict until Huyler can be roused and brought in for the deciding vote. To his dismay, Huyler votes not guilty. The film ends with Johnson, his term as president over, triumphantly returning to the Senate.
According to paleoconservative writer Bill Kauffman, "Tennessee Johnson is notable for the campaign of repression waged against it: Vincent Price, Zero Mostel, and Ben Hecht, among others, petitioned the Office of War Information to destroy the film in the interest of national unity. Manny Farber in The New Republic got it right: 'Censorship is a disgrace, whether done by the Hays office and pressure groups, or by liberals and the OWI.'"
- Van Heflin as Andrew Johnson
- Lionel Barrymore as Thaddeus Stevens
- Ruth Hussey as Eliza McCardle Johnson
- Marjorie Main as Maude Fisher
- Regis Toomey as Blackstone McDannell
- J. Edward Bromberg as Coke
- Grant Withers as Mordecai Milligan, the murdered blacksmith
- Alec Craig as Sam Andrews
- Charles Dingle as Senator Jim Waters
- Carl Benton Reid as Congressman Hargrove
- Russell Hicks as Lincoln's emissary
- Noah Beery as Sheriff Cass
- Robert Warwick as Major Crooks
- Montagu Love as Chief Justice Chase
- Lloyd Corrigan as Mr. Secretary
According to MGM records the film only made $570,000 in the US and Canada and $114,000 elsewhere, causing the studio to lose $637,000 on the movie.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Kauffman, Bill (2011-12-02) Redford Goes Ron Paul, The American Conservative
- Zero Mostel: a Biography (1989), Jared Brown, Atheneum, NY (ISBN 0-689-11955-0). Pp. 35-36.
- Tennessee Johnson at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Tennessee Johnson at the TCM Movie Database
- Tennessee Johnson at the Internet Movie Database