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Film / Sunrise at Campobello

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Sunrise at Campobello is a 1960 drama film directed by Vincent J. Donehue, starring Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson. Adapted by producer Dore Schary from his own Tony Award-winning 1958 play, it is a Biopic of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Specifically, the film deals with the years 1921–24, starting from when FDR was stricken with polio and paralyzed at the age of 39, and following the family as Franklin (Bellamy) deals with his illness. Franklin's political future is up in the air; as Eleanor (Garson) tries to support him, his loyal assistant and political advisor Louis Howe (Hume Cronyn) urges him to re-enter the political arena despite his handicap, and his domineering mother Sara (Ann Shoemaker) tries to get him to retire from public life and return to Hyde Park to be a country squire. Finally Roosevelt makes a triumphant return to politics when he delivers the nominating speech for Al Smith (Alan Bunce) at the 1924 Democratic National Convention.

Compare Warm Springs, a 2005 TV movie starring Kenneth Branagh which offers a more fictionalized take on the same period of Roosevelt's life.


  • As You Know: A whole bunch of this in the beginning as dialogue establishes that FDR ran for Vice President in 1920 and lost, and that Louis Howe thinks he should go work on Wall Street for a while but the more socially progressive Eleanor disapproves.
  • Biopic: Dealing with a relatively short but very important period in the life of Franklin Roosevelt.
  • Dark Horse Victory: Alluded to by Al Smith, who says to FDR, "I'd like to win this nomination, but there's a good chance it could be a stalemate. Some dark horse might come riding home." In fact, this is what happened, when the convention picked John W. Davis on the 103rd ballot after being stalemated between Smith and William McAdoo. (Davis went on to take one of the all-time beat downs from Coolidge in the 1924 election.)
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Not from FDR so much, as he is relatively unembarrassed about his handicap, at least among his family and friends. But his mother Sara feels this very much on Franklin's behalf, which is why she wants him to retire from public life.
  • Grande Dame: Mother Sara is this, a snooty rich society lady who doesn't appeal of Franklin's more left-wing political ideals.
  • Happily Married: Franklin and Eleanor, to a far greater extent than Real Life. In reality Franklin and Eleanor nearly got divorced after she found out about his affair with Lucy Mercer in 1918, and the two of them would lead relatively separate lives until Franklin's death. Here, Eleanor is a nurturing wife and mother.
  • Hiding the Handicap: As in real life, and right from the beginning, when FDR's stretcher is taken to a different boat to leave the island while the rest of the family goes to the boat where the press is waiting. By the end of the movie Roosevelt is using leg braces and support from someone standing next to him to basically fake the ability to walk.
  • I Can't Feel My Legs!: It isn't in battle, but one of the first signs that the fever Franklin has caught is really serious is when he says he's experiencing numbness in his legs.
  • Kissing Cousins: Franklin calls Eleanor "Cousin, wife, dearest." They were fifth cousins; Eleanor's maiden name was "Roosevelt" and her uncle was President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Misery Builds Character: It's been the common historical view ever since his presidency that Franklin Roosevelt's illness and paralysis played an important role in developing his character as a leader. In the movie, FDR says "I feel I must go through this fire for some reason."
  • My Beloved Smother: Franklin's bossy, controlling mother Sara is a constant source of tension. At one point her over-the-shoulder carping drives Eleanor into a teary breakdown. She also opposes Louis's plans to ease Franklin back into politics, fearing the stigma and embarrassment if Franklin's disability is publicized.
  • Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle: Franklin poses to the kids a question about a train leaving Hyde Park at 80 mph and a train leaving New York at 40 mph. Which train would be closer to New York when they meet? After the kids confidently answer that the faster train would be closer, Franklin gets them, pointing out that if the trains had met, they must both be the same distance from New York.
  • Too Important to Walk: Some Gallows Humor from Franklin as he's being taken away on a stretcher to the boat: "By gosh, I feel like the caliph of Baghdad!" Of course, the real reason he isn't walking is because he can't.
  • Video Credits: Of all the main players.

Alternative Title(s): Sunrise At Campobello