Sunrise at Campobello
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVincent J. Donehue
Screenplay byDore Schary
Based onSunrise at Campobello
1958 play
by Dore Schary
Produced byDore Schary
StarringRalph Bellamy
Greer Garson
Hume Cronyn
CinematographyRussell Harlan
Edited byGeorge Boemler
Music byFranz Waxman
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • September 28, 1960 (1960-09-28)
Running time
144 minutes
CountryUnited States

Sunrise at Campobello is a 1960 American biographical film telling the story of the struggles of future President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family when Roosevelt was stricken with paralysis at the age of 39 in August 1921. Based on Dore Schary's 1958 Tony Award-winning Broadway play of the same name, the film was directed by Vincent J. Donehue and stars Ralph Bellamy, Greer Garson, Hume Cronyn and Jean Hagen.

The film was produced with the cooperation of the Roosevelt family. Eleanor Roosevelt was present on the set during location shooting at the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, New York.


The Roosevelt family at Campobello, 1920
(l-r) Ralph Bellamy, Eleanor Roosevelt and Greer Garson at Hyde Park, New York filming Sunrise at Campobello in 1960.

At the Roosevelt family's summer home on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada (on the border with Maine) in the summer of 1921, Franklin D. Roosevelt is vigorously athletic, enjoying games with his children and sailing his boat.

Roosevelt is suddenly stricken with fever and then paralysis. Conflict ensues between the bedridden Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor, his mother Sara and his close political adviser Louis Howe. Later, as Roosevelt drags himself up the stairs, he painfully strives to overcome his physical limitations and resist remaining an invalid.

Roosevelt reenters public life as he walks to the speaker's rostrum at a party convention, aided by heavy leg braces and crutches.


Director Dore Schary had originally considered Anthony Quayle for the role of Roosevelt until Schary's wife suggested Bellamy.[1]


Sunrise at Campobello presents events that took place over three years, from August 1921 to July 1924, culminating in Roosevelt's speech at the 1924 Democratic National Convention.[2] Before and during Roosevelt's presidency, the extent of his disability was minimized. Sunrise at Campobello depicts the debilitating effects of his paralytic illness to a greater extent than had been previously disclosed by the media.

Exteriors were filmed at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, the Roosevelt Campobello International Park on Campobello Island and the Roosevelts' former Manhattan residence. Interiors were shots on sets at Warner Bros. The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles was used to represent for Madison Square Garden for the 1924 convention.

The film was scored by Franz Waxman.[3]


The film faced competition from Elmer Gantry, The World of Suzy Wong, The Apartment and Butterfield 8, films that all dealt with sex and that impacted the box-office performance of Sunrise at Campobello.[4] At the time the film was made, Roosevelt's affair with Lucy Mercer was not generally known and could not be portrayed on screen.

The film was entered into the 2nd Moscow International Film Festival.[5] At its screening on July 19, 1961 at the Russia Theatre, the audience started to leave within minutes. More than 2,000 attendees departed before the end of the screening,[6] possibly after realizing that the film did not depict the war years.

Variety wrote that the film "...loses none of its poignant and inspirational qualities." It called Bellamy "brilliant", and noted Garson's "deeply moving, multifaceted characterization."[3]

In a contemporary review for The New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther called Sunrise at Campobello "a well-done, moving biographical film" and wrote: "Ralph Bellamy's performance of Mr. Roosevelt is every bit as strong, as full of feeling and characteristic gesture, as Mr. Bellamy made it on the stage. ... However, it must be mentioned that a tendency to overdo some of the famous Roosevelt expressions ... induces a bit of vexation, especially when they are shown in close-up, which glaringly discloses their forced and theatrical quality." Crowther also criticized Greer Garson's "singsong manner of speech" that sounded like a caricature of Eleanor Roosevelt's voice.[7]

The Hollywood Reporter review concluded that "the play was an excellent job and has been improved upon."[8]

More recently, Darragh O’Donoghue considers the film a hagiography but notes: "Hume Cronyn is the heart and soul of the film as Louis Howe, FDR’s right-hand man, an asthmatic whose relish for the 'real world' of compromised politics disgusts FDR’s patrician mother played with haughty relish by Ann Shoemaker."[9]

Awards and honors

Greer Garson won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama.[10]

Academy Awards


See also


  1. ^ Steinberg, Jay S., "Sunrise at Campobello", TCM
  2. ^ "Sunrise at Campobello". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-09-26.
  3. ^ a b "Sunrise at Campobello", Variety, December 31, 1959
  4. ^ "When F.D.R. Was Beaten". Variety. September 6, 1961. p. 2.
  5. ^ "2nd Moscow International Film Festival (1961)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 2013-01-16. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
  6. ^ "Moscow Fest Fluffs U.S. Film". Daily Variety. July 20, 1961. p. 1.
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley (1960-09-29). "Screen: Intimate Portrait". The New York Times. p. 32.
  8. ^ Higgins, Bill. "FDR's Virus Battle Inspired 'Sunrise at Campobello' in 1960", THR, April 11, 2020
  9. ^ O'Donoghue, Darragh. "Sunrise at Campobello", Cineaste, Vol. XLVI, No. 2, 2021
  10. ^ "NY Times: Sunrise at Campobello". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-11-23. Retrieved 2008-12-24.
  11. ^ " -- Sunrise at Campobello" Archived 2014-01-14 at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 15, 2014.