Picks and Pans Review: Truman

UPDATED 10/06/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 10/06/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Sun.-Mon., Oct. 5-6, 8 p.m. ET)


Folksy, feisty, decisive. That's Harry Truman's enduring image, though his popularity waxed and waned during his Presidency. This 4½-hour documentary, part of PBS's The American Experience, is frankly fond of the man from Independence, Mo. But it doesn't ignore his flaws and quirks. In this absorbing account, the political scrapper who delighted in "giving 'em hell" frequently caught hell from his sourpuss spouse, Bess, whom he inexplicably adored. The Chief Executive prided himself on taking firm, fast action but was plagued by feelings of inadequacy that led to highly unstates-manlike eruptions of anger.

Series host David McCullough is the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning Truman biography, so he also appears as a commentator here. Joining him are fellow Truman biographer Alonzo Hamby and 30 historians, journalists and Truman associates, including a 102-year-old veteran of the battery he commanded in World War I. Jason Robards narrates with vigor and expression, and producer-director David Grubin has assembled a fine collection of archival material. Our favorite: a photo of Truman playing an upright piano, on which is perched a distractingly leggy Lauren Bacall.

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