Sunrise at Campobello

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Sunrise at Campobello Movie Poster Image
Exceptional and inspiring biopic about FDR.
  • NR
  • 1960
  • 144 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

With strength of character, a positive attitude, and a refusal to give up, you can overcome great difficulties. It's essential to fight back against corruption, injustice, and even bad luck. Humility and faith teach us about helping the less fortunate in our midst: "We can't make it the same world for all people, but every human must make a stab at trying."

Positive Role Models & Representations

 

Forced to accept the fact that he might never walk again, FDR refuses to live life as an invalid. His initial sadness and despair are conquered by his wisdom, wit, and zest for life. The result is a life of service and great accomplishment. The roots of Eleanor Roosevelt's formidable role in women's history are shown in her commanding courage, intelligence, and strength despite a tendency toward shyness. 

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Pipe smoking, cigarette-smoking are pervasive. FDR drinks Scotch in one scene.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sunrise at Campobello is a warmhearted film for older kids, teens, and adults about Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family during the years in which the future president struggled with the onset of a lifelong disability. Despite the seriousness of Roosevelt's illness, it's a positive story, almost two-and-a-half hours long, and focuses on character rather than incident. With many life-affirming messages, the movie is a vivid introduction to a man who is considered one of America's most important leaders. Set in the 1920s, smoking is continuous (pipe and cigarettes), and the only cast members of color are servants.

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What's the story?

SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO is the story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy), from the time he became disabled by polio to his comeback into mainstream politics, as he introduced candidate Al Smith to the Democratic convention of 1928. Franklin, a man of unquenchable vigor, was forced to reconsider his future when his legs became paralyzed. His friend and political advisor, Louis Howe (Hume Cronyn) tells him he has two choices: to become a "country squire" and write books, or to get up and get back into politics. His mother urges him not to overdo: "I don't want to see you hurt." He must learn patience. His compassion for others is deepened by his experience, as well. He tells his wife, Eleanor (Greer Garson) "I turned to my faith, Babs -- for strength to endure. I feel I have to go through the fire for some reason. Eleanor, it's a hard way to learn humility -- but I've learned it by crawling. I know what is meant -- you must learn to crawl before you can walk." Eleanor herself must learn, too. She has to overcome her shyness to become his eyes and ears, giving speeches and meeting people.

Is it any good?

SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO is an exceptional and inspiring story, all the more so because it's true. It also raises important questions about public service, what it means and how the public interest is best determined and best served. Franklin's mother tells him that those who are privileged owe a duty to the rest, but Franklin argues that this "noblesse oblige" notion of public service is "an excuse for indifference," and avoids the real issues of equality and opportunity. Eleanor says, "I have the naive view that you should pursue principles without calculating the consequences," and is advised dryly by Louis, "You're no politician."

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Mrs. Roosevelt means when she tells Franklin that "your stubbornness is not only your strength but your weakness." 

  • What other stories of presidents' lives have you read or seen in movies? How does this film compare? Is it important to know about the lives of past national leaders? 

  • Why was it so important that Roosevelt stand to give his speech? Would that be as important today? How did Franklin and Eleanor change as a result of his paralysis?

Movie details

For kids who love biographies

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