While I have always loved Lincoln, the recent adulation of him on the left constitutes an unmistakable signal to revisit my views. Not coincidentally, a recent review of Walter Stahr’s book, Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, uncovered a revealing exchange between the men, although perhaps not the type of exchange a Tony Kushner type would pine for.
It involves one of the signature remarks attributed to Lincoln from his first Inaugural Address – Lincoln’s first draft read as follows:
You can forbear the assault upon [the government], I can not shrink from the defense of it. With you, and not with me, is the solemn question of Shall it be peace, or a sword?
William Henry Seward’s revision:
Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly they must not, I am sure they will not be broken. The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battle fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.
Lincoln’s final edit:
Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
The final product constitutes a Lincoln edit of Seward, not the other way around. Which reinforces the idea that we rarely go wrong in doubting the zeitgeist. Then it hit me like a AMC PG-edited marathon on a rainy [or work averse] weekend; stop being distracted by the shiny Corleone objects, Apollonia Vitelli aside, and look past the obvious.
In the Lincoln movie, Thaddeus Stevens admonishes his fellow abolitionists for their failure to notice how Lincoln had the capacity to surprise them. Tom Hagen had that quality in spades. Michael Corleone’s capacity to surprise mirrors the acting range of a David Spade.
Michael’s go to move is his only move, cold-blooded revenge. The only surprising thing about Michael is that his cold-bloodlessness knew no bottom, given his capacity to plan and watch his older brother’s [Hey Mikey!] execution. Although in his defense, I guess wherever Fredo eventually sank to could qualify as that bottom.
But Tom Hagen surprises us at almost every turn. Consider;
- The Woltz meeting is the first indication of a different kind of mobster. As Robert Duvall methodically pulls back his chair from the table, he makes us, not to mention Woltz, pull back as well. We begin to wonder what’s going on. When Woltz pulls back the sheets, Hagen’s head games are revealed.
- Legitimizing the idea of Michael killing both Sollozzo and Capt. McCluskey. Replay the scene in your head. The idea is only taken seriously when Hagen gives it legitimacy and he doesn’t even have to speak, its just a look. Hagen then cleverly sidesteps the absurdity implicit in Michael’s logic about “newspaper people on the payroll liking the idea”–memo to the Chosen One, the whole point of having people on the payroll is that you don’t have to worry about what they like–and hazily invites the Ivy League wonder boy to sign his own deportation papers by allowing him some verbal rope … ‘they might, they just might’ …. With that most efficient of moves, Hagen resolves the following; a limited retaliation, guarantees that Michael will be ensnared in the family business and his own prominence in whatever follows.
- The Pentangeli dialogues. This was Tom Hagen at the top of his game. His assignment is to talk an aging mobster (“Frankie Five Angels”) held in protective custody into a suicide, given the threat to his brother’s life. After a lovely visit, Hagen barely broaches the subject, weaving into the discussion grandiose reflections on the Roman Empire, then graciously allowing Pentangeli to detail the manner in which it should occur. Threat? What threat? It’s like Frankie’s doing him a favor. Contrast this with Michael’s ham-handed attempt to question Hyman Roth about ‘who gave the order.’ Amateur hour.
Final note. Tony Parker averaged 4 turnovers a game against Memphis. The Spurs as a team have averaged 11.5 turnovers in the playoffs. Spurs turn it over 15 times and Heat wins game 2.