User Reviews (171)

Add a Review

  • In his otherwise excellent book, Lincoln in American Memory, the historian Merrill Peterson calls Young Mr.Lincoln a "boring, dreadful, film". This amazingly wrongheaded analysis simply proves that great historians are rarely fine film critics. I am working on a doctoral dissertation on Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. As part of my preparation for writing the dissertation, I made a careful analysis of this film, and of Tag Gallaghers brilliant interpretation of it in his seminal book on Ford. Young Mr. Lincoln comes out that culminating year of the first phase of Ford's cinematic authorship, 1939.In that greatest of Hollywood years, Ford directed three superb, still not fully appreciated films: Drums Along the Mohawk, Stagecoach,and Young Mr.Lincoln. It might seem odd to say that Stagecoach is not fully appreciated, all but the most purblind of critics must perceive that it is one of of the greatest Westerns, and perhaps even one of the hundred greatest films of all time. However, what is NOT fully appreciated is that these three films work together as a kind of trilogy-a triptych, in fact. Ford is creating a sort of mythic history of America on screen. Drums Along the Mohawk is the Revolutionary War. Young Mr.Lincoln is pre-Civil War America.Finally, Stagecoach is Post Civil War America. What the three films have in common is that they are an extended meditation on the American Adam and his "errand into the Wilderness". What are the Psychic and social costs of American manifest destiny, as America strives to build a new human city in the wilderness?Lincoln symbolizes Americas journey, as he seeks to reconcile the civilizational inmpulse (law), with the freedom of the wilderness.Young Mr.Lincoln is not history, ( It is full of historical "howlers'-as both Ford and Trotti were well aware), but myth. This is Lincoln, the symbol of justice and mercy, Lincoln, the man of the wilderness, striving to found a civilization within himself, and to become the "remarkable lawgiver' of young America. Young Mr. Lincoln is not history-like James Agee's long forgotten teleplay about Lincoln, and like Sandburgs biography, it is an epic poem...a very beautiful epic poem.
  • 1939 is universally accepted as the greatest year in Hollywood history, with more classic films released than in any other, and John Ford directed three of the best, "Stagecoach", "Drums Along the Mohawk", and this beautiful homage to frontier days and a young backwoods lawyer destined to eventually save the Union, "Young Mr. Lincoln".

    With the world plunging into a war that America dreaded, but knew it would be drawn into, Abraham Lincoln was much on people's minds, in 1939, as someone who had faced the same dilemma in his own life, and had triumphed. On Broadway, Robert E. Sherwood's award-winning "Abe Lincoln in Illinois", with Raymond Massey's physically dead-on portrayal, was playing to packed houses (it would be filmed in 1940). Carl Sandburg's continuation of his epic biography, "Abraham Lincoln: The War Years", was published, and quickly became a best seller. President Roosevelt frequently referred to Lincoln in speeches, and the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C., became the most popular landmark in town (a fact that Frank Capra made good use of, in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington").

    All this was not lost on Darryl F. Zanuck, at 20th Century Fox; as soon as he read Lamar Trotti's screenplay of Lincoln's early days as a lawyer, he designated it a 'prestige' production, and assigned John Ford to direct, and Henry Fonda, to star.

    Fonda did NOT want to play Lincoln; he felt he couldn't do justice to the 'Great Emancipator', and feared a bad performance would damage his career. Even a filmed make-up test, in which he was stunned by how much he would resemble Lincoln, wouldn't change his mind. According to Fonda, John Ford, whom he'd never worked with, cussed him out royally, at their first meeting, and explained he wasn't portraying the Lincoln of Legend, but a young "jackanape" country lawyer facing his first murder trial. Humbled, Fonda took the role. (John Ford offered a different scenario of the events, but the outcome was the same!) Obviously, they found a chemistry together that worked, as nearly all of their pairings would produce 'classics'.

    Unlike the introverted, melancholia-racked Lincoln of "Abe Lincoln in Illinois", Ford's vision was that of a shy but likable young attorney, who made friends easily, and misses the mother he lost, too young (resulting in a bond with a pioneer mother that becomes a vital part of the story). Injustice riles him, and he speaks 'common sense' to quell violence, interlaced with doses of humor. Both productions play on Lincoln's (undocumented) relationship with Ann Rutledge; in Ford's version, the pair are truly in love, and committed to each other. After her death, Lincoln would frequently visit her grave, to share his life with her 'spirit' (a theme Ford would continue in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon").

    A murder trial is the centerpiece of the film, and shows the prodigious talents of the star and director. Fonda deftly portrays Lincoln's inexperience, yet earnest belief in justice tempered with mercy, and Ford emphasizes the gulf between the big-city 'intellectuals' (represented by pompous D.A. Donald Meek, and his slick 'advisor', Stephen Douglas, played by a young Milburn Stone), and the informal, rule-bending country sense of Lincoln. With Ford 'regular' Ward Bond as a key witness, the trial is both unconventional, and riveting.

    With the film closing as Lincoln strides away into the stormy distance, and his destiny (dissolving into a view of the statue at the Lincoln Memorial), audiences could take comfort in the film's message that if a cause is just, good would ultimately triumph.

    "Young Mr. Lincoln" is a truly remarkable film, from an amazing year!
  • Young Mr. Lincoln marks the first film of the director/star collaboration of John Ford and Henry Fonda. I recall years ago Fonda telling that as a young actor he was understandably nervous about playing Abraham Lincoln and scared he wouldn't live up to the challenge.

    John Ford before the shooting starts put him at ease by saying he wasn't going to be playing the Great Emancipator, but just a jack-leg prairie lawyer. That being settled Fonda headed a cast that John Ford directed into a classic film.

    This is not a biographical film of Lincoln. That had come before in the sound era with Walter Huston and a year after Young Mr. Lincoln, Raymond Massey did the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Robert Sherwood Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Massey still remains the definitive Lincoln.

    But as Ford said, Fonda wasn't playing the Great Emancipator just a small town lawyer in Illinois. The film encompasses about 10 years of Lincoln's early life. We see him clerking in a general store, getting some law books from an immigrant pioneer family whose path he would cross again later in the story. And his romance with Ann Rutledge with her early death leaving Lincoln a most melancholy being.

    Fast forward about 10 years and Lincoln is now a practicing attorney beginning to get some notice. He's served a couple of terms in the legislature, but he's back in private practice not really sure if politics is for him.

    This is where the bulk of the action takes place. The two sons of that family he'd gotten the law books from way back when are accused of murder. He offers to defend them. And not an ordinary murder but one of a deputy sheriff.

    The trial itself is fiction, but the gambit used in the defense of Richard Cromwell and Eddie Quillan who played the two sons is based on a real case Lincoln defended. I'll say no more.

    Other than the performances, the great strength of Young Mr. Lincoln is the way John Ford captures the mood and atmosphere and setting of a small Illinois prairie town in a Fourth of July celebration. It's almost like you're watching a newsreel. And it was the mood of the country itself, young, vibrant and growing.

    Fans of John Ford films will recognize two musical themes here that were repeated in later films. During the romantic interlude at the beginning with Fonda and Pauline Moore who played Ann Rutledge the music in the background is the same theme used in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance for Vera Miles. And at a dance, the tune Lovely Susan Brown that Fonda and Marjorie Weaver who plays Mary Todd is the same one Fonda danced with Cathy Downs to, in My Darling Clementine at the dance for the raising of a church in Tombstone.

    Lincoln will forever be a favorite subject of biographers and dramatists because of two reasons, I believe. The first is he's the living embodiment of our own American mythology about people rising from the very bottom to the pinnacle of power through their own efforts. In fact Young Mr. Lincoln very graphically shows the background Lincoln came from. And secondly the fact that he was our president during the greatest crisis in American history and that he made a singularly good and moral decision to free slaves during the Civil War, albeit for some necessary political reasons. His assassination assured his place in history.

    Besides Fonda and others I've mentioned special praise should also go to Fred Kohler, Jr. and Ward Bond, the two town louts, Kohler being the murder victim and Bond the chief accuser. Also Donald Meek as the prosecuting attorney and Alice Brady in what turned out to be her last film as the pioneer mother of Cromwell and Quillan. And a very nice performance by Spencer Charters who specialized in rustic characters as the judge.

    For a film that captures the drama and romance of the time it's set in, you can't do better than Young Mr. Lincoln.
  • According to John Ford's lyrically shot, fictional biopic of Abraham Lincoln's life his greatest faults may have been an obtuseness with woman and an ability to dance in "the worst way." Ford's camera has only praising views to reveal of Mr. Lincoln's early life. But for what the film lacks in character complexities it makes up for in beauty and depth of vision. Uncharacteristically beautiful compositions of early film, what could have been a series of gorgeous still frames, Ford has a unique eye for telling a story. The film sings of the life of a hopeful young man. Henry Fonda plays the contemplative and spontaneously clever Lincoln to a tee, one of his best roles.

    The film concerns two young men, brothers, on trial for a murder that both claim to have committed. In classic angry mob style, the town decides to take justice into their own hands and lynch the pair of them, until honest Abe steps into the fray. He charms them with his humor, telling them not to rob him of his first big case, and that they are as good as lynched with him as the boys lawyer. What follows seems to become the outline for all courtroom- murder-dramas thereafter, as Abe cunningly interrogates witnesses to the delight and humor of the judge, jury and town before he stumbles upon the missing links.

    The film plays out like many John Ford movies do: a tablespoon of Americana, a dash of moderate predictability, a hint of sarcasm that you aren't sure if you put in the recipe or if Ford did it himself. Despite the overtly 'Hollywood' feel of the film, and overly patriotic banter alluding to Lincoln's future presidency, the film is entirely enjoyable and enjoyably well constructed, if you can take your drama with a grain of salt.
  • This film was not only one of John Ford's own personal favorites but also numbered directors Sergei M. Eisenstein and Bertrand Tavernier among its high-profile admirers. Ironically, I've just caught up with it myself via Criterion's recent 2-Disc Set after missing out on a couple of original language screenings of it on Italian TV many years ago and again a few times on TV while in Hollywood!

    The film marked Ford's first of nine collaborations with Henry Fonda and is also a quintessential example of Ford's folksy Americana vein. A beautifully made and pictorially quite poetic piece of work, the courtroom sequences (and eventual revelation) in its second half still pack quite a wallop, apart from giving stalwart character actor Donald Meek a memorably meaty role as the prosecuting attorney.

    Fonda is, of course, perfectly cast as a bashful, inexperienced but rigorous and humanistic lawyer who was destined to become President; Fonda would go on to portray other fictitious politicians on film - most notably in Franklin J. Schaffner's THE BEST MAN (1964) and Sidney Lumet's FAIL-SAFE (1964) - and it's surprising now to learn that he was reluctant at the time about accepting the role of Lincoln since, in his view, that was "like playing God"!

    It is interesting to note here that Ford had previously tackled Abraham Lincoln (tangentially) in THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (1936), a superb but perhaps little-known gem which has, luckily, just been released as a Special Edition DVD by the UK's veritable Criterion stand-in, Eureka's "Masters Of Cinema" label. Besides, I also have two more Abraham Lincoln films in my DVD collection which I've yet to watch and, incidentally, both were directed by D. W. Griffith - THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) and ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1930) - and, had I not just received a bunch of films I've never watched before just now, I would have gladly given them a spin based on my highly-satisfying viewing experience with YOUNG MR. LINCOLN.
  • Why does this movie get so little attention? Maybe because it came out in that overstuffed great-movie year, 1939 (Wizard of Oz, Dark Victory, Grand Illusion, GWTW [which I can't stand]). But I really think it's because YML is a transitional film for Ford -- it's stuck between his early expressionistic period ("The Informer") and his classic Western period, with one stylistic foot in each. And it's unabashedly patriotic, only hinting at the dark reimagining of the American experience that the Master would come to in "The Searchers" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" -- but still hinting at it enough to turn off the McVeighs among us.

    Maybe that's why I love it. You can see Ford coming to terms with the grand, Griffithesque vision of America through its most complicated avatar, Lincoln. Ford's love for his country was more like Lincoln's than Griffith's, anyway: like Lincoln, he acknowledged the genius of the democratic experiment, but he was also aware of its dangers: mob rule and self-satisfaction. YML's greatest scenes are all about this.

    First, there's the local parade Abe attends, surrounded by yahoos whom he loves but also sees for what they are. (We see him in another scene accepting a legal case from one of these -- and warily biting the coin offered him for a retainer.) Veterans of the recent War of 1812 and Indian Wars march through; the crowd is wild for them, Abe merely respectful.Then a agon of old men in tricorners is pulled through the parade route. No one seems to know who they are. Lincoln quietly informs his friends that they are veterans of the War for Independence -- and gravely doffs his stovepipe hat. His friends, mildly ashamed (it appears) of their prevous jingoistic glee, follow suit, and stand silent and hatless as the old men pass.

    Then the mildly ludicrous plot -- about two brothers accused of another man's murder -- kicks in, and Abe goes to work. The scene where he confronts a lynch mob, putting his foot up against the log they're using for a battering-ram against the jailhouse door, is a classic by any standard. But note how Abe talks to the mob on its own level while remaining, in spirit, resolutely on his own higher plane. After appealing to their macho impulses by offering to "lick any man here," he delivers a house-divided speech that soothes their savagery and leaves them confused and irresolute. "Dontcha wanna put that log down now, boys?" he asks when they have been flummoxed by his eloquence. "Ain't it gettin' a mite heavy?"

    Throughout Ford indulges in shameless historical foreshadowings that would have made Stephen Vincent Benet blush. Abe meets Mary Todd and Stephen Douglas; he rides down a dirt road with a bumpkin who's playing a new tune called "Dixie" on a jaw-harp. "Kinda makes you feel like marchin'!" says the bumpkin, as he and Abe ride through a muddy patch in the road.

    The ending is impossible to describe without inviting derision, but I swear to you, it works. Having won his case, Lincoln allows as how he might take a walk -- "maybe to the top of that hill." As he trudges on, the skies send down rain and lightning -- and Abe seems to know what this is a prelude to.

    I acknowledge the superiority of the great Ford films that came after, but I will always have a special place in my heart for "Young Mr. Lincoln." Independence Day (the federal day of observance, not the movie) is coming; you could do far worse than to watch this great film before the barbecue.
  • Henry Fonda brilliantly captures what we have long believed Abraham Lincoln was like. It is a fooler. Through Fonda's performance we are led to believe (on the surface) that Abraham Lincoln was a country bumpkin. But, through his confrontation with the lynch mob and especially during the court proceedings, you can see that beneath the exterior posturings is a brilliant man who has a very good command of what is going on around him and how to influence the people around him.

    In this movie Henry Fonda shows that he has a very good grasp of how to present humor. It is an aspect of him that has been lost over the years. When he is telling stories and jokes he has the timing down perfect. There is a sequence in the trial that had me laughing quite hard. He shows this gift again in The Lady Eve in 1940.

    The ending by John Ford is absolutely brilliant with Henry Fonda going to the top of a hill and in the distance a tremendous storm symbolic of the Civil War. He goes forward into history. The movie is fiction but the insight into Lincoln is tremendous. Definitely worth seeing again.
  • This is an evocative and idealized portrait of the early life of Lincoln (he was born 1809 Hodgensville-Kentucky- and died in Washington 1865 in theatre Ford killed by James Wilkes Booth. John Ford's excellent movie takes Abraham Lincoln (Fonda) from his youth. He studied laws , common law and began practice as a lawyer in 1837. This Hollywood biography follows Lincoln from his log-cabin days, initial relationship to Mary Todd (Weaver), going on the couple from their first ball, and his departure for congress candidate . But it focuses mainly on two brothers (Richard Cromwell, Eddie Quillan) accused for murder, subsequent trial with amusing court debate scenes and the protection from their mum (Alice Brady) . The Lincoln-Fonda as defender advocate and Donald Meek-prosecutor are nothing short of brilliant.

    Excellent performance from Henry Fonda as idealistic ,traveller Springfield solicitor , he was to star regularly for John Ford from this movie , as ¨Grapes of wrath" ,"My darling Clementine" , and "Fort Apache¨. Besides, sterling acting by Alice Brady as grieved mother , she was a great actress from the silent cinema to early sound , but this one resulted to be her last movie because she early died due to cancer . The Lincoln's deeds developing make for skillfully appealing entertainment. His portrayal shows a nostalgic longing for things past and old values and describes his goodness , uprightness and willful . Lincoln , like John Ford, was a straightforward man who never varied the ideals of his youth . This American masterpiece is correct on both counts , as splendid biography and as magnificent drama.

    Other biographies about Abraham Lincoln are the following ones : 1) ¨Abraham Lincoln¨(1930) by D. W. Griffith with Walter Huston , Una Merkel, talking about his birth until his assassination ; 2) ¨Abe Lincoln in Illinois¨(1940) by John Cromwell with Raymond Massey , Ruth Gordon, concerning similar events to Ford's film throughout his career as a lawyer 3) TV version titled ¨Gore Vidal's Lincoln¨ with Sam Waterston and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Todd. And, finally, a recent version by Steven Spileberg with Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field.
  • Young Mr. Lincoln(1939) was released in the same year as another classic by John Ford called Stagecoach(1939). Its amazing that two great films like these were overlooked for the Best Picture award of 1939. Tells the fictitious but compelling story of the early days of Abraham Lincolm when he was a young struggling lawyer. He shows traits that made him famous during his role as the President of the United States. He does have a touch of the Sherlock Holmes method of solving crimes for he uses it to have defend a man falsely accused of murder.

    Patriototic motion picture that is one of my favorite films from John Ford. Henry Fonda is perfect in the role of the young Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he bears a little resemblence to the late admired and revered, Abraham Lincoln. Fonda gives a performance of admiring humaine tenderness. Many of the scenes in Young Mr Lincoln(1939) are done with beauty and finesse.
  • Amazingly, I have just seen this film for the first time. I was not expecting such a wonderful portrayal by Mr. Fonda and the accuracy (within Hollywood limits of the time) by Mr. Ford. I am no Lincoln historian, but I have read enough about him that I recognize the truth in the spirit of this film. A number of details could certainly be noted as historically inaccurate; on the other hand, the image of Mr. Lincoln as a lawyer who cares for people, truth, and mercy is quite accurate. One reviewer writes that Mr. Lincoln is made to appear as a country bumpkin, using humor when he is unable to use anything useful. To the contrary, Mr. Lincoln was realistic about his country origins; he used humor to convince, drive home an important point, and win people to his view; he was self-effacing. The manner in which Mr. Fonda portrays him in this film does homage to the man. The film may conflate history for entertainment purposes (it is, after all, a Hollywood production), but it is not as unhistorical as many believe. While sentimental (as to be expected of a 1939 film about an American icon), Young Mr. Lincoln is an admirable presentation of the spirit of the man.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I love this film. First off, let's get this out of the way, in no way is this movie a historic accurate movie. Young Mr. Lincoln is a partly fictionalized biography about the early life of President Abraham Lincoln; played by actor, Henry Fonda. While the events were somewhat made up, the movie makes it seem like those events could had really happen to a young Mr. Lincoln. Henry Fonda originally turned down the role of Lincoln, saying he didn't think he could play such a great man, until he found himself looking like Abraham Lincoln in the makeup chair. He is transport into Abe Lincoln with his performance. It look like the real life Lincoln playing himself in the film. Henry Fonda did a great job, acting in this film. Directed by John Ford, most of the film focus on the famous 'Almanac Trial' of the murder of William 'Duff' Armstong that took place in 1858, not in 1837 as is implied in this movie. The real life trial was in a courthouse in Beardstown, Illinois not Springfield. The case in the movie was about, a man who was murdered in a brawl that took place at a July 4 celebration. Lincoln choose to defend the accused, two brothers, Matt (Richard Cromwell) and Adam Clay (Eddie Quillan) who were seen fighting with the man by the key witness, John Palmer Cass (Ward Bond). John was the friend of the victim who claims to have seen the murder at a distance of about 100 yards under the light of the moon. The family and Lincoln are pressured to save one of the brothers at the expense of the other's conviction. Alice Brady is wonderful as the mother of the two boys. Still, kinda young to portraying the mother. I like the Sophia's choice sub-plot that her character has to deal with. Still, I just wouldn't figure out, why she couldn't just tell the truth. Did she really wanted both to hang for the crime? It's seem foolish to me. For the most part, this movie isn't about Lincoln's rise as president as I thought it was about, coming in. It's mostly just a court room drama piece with a famous president being the lawyer. The courtroom scene is a piece of virtuoso directing and acting. The camera setups, the editing, the rhythm of footsteps and the cane on the floor, the lighting, smoke drifting in from the right of the frame, everything is perfect. One of the most flawless uses of space in film. The film does bring up some historic figures into the film. There was a romantic sub-plot that wasn't really explore or explain between Abe Lincoln and Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore). Sadly, it was quickly cut off within the first 10 minutes of the film. I thought it needed to be fresh out. He really loved Ann. It nearly broke him and he remembered her always. By barely mentioning her in the film was pretty sad. Then there was Mary Todd's story (Marjorie Weaver). Rather than exploring more about their early relationship, the film has Mary Todd just playing cheerleader at the trial with her then jock like boyfriend, Stephen Douglas (Milburn Stone) who for the other side. A scene cut from the film involved Lincoln meeting a very young John Wilkes Booth, his future assassin. The movie has some great humor to it, but it hasn't aged well. The jokes were funny, but it might now seem really cheesy at the time. The Fourth of July scenes added great humor. It was funny, but really slow the pace of the film. Did the film really need that pie scene? One joke that didn't aged well was the drunk guy being allow in the jury and him, burping every time, they talk about alcohol. This is something, you see in a cartoon, not a court room drama by John Ford. The editing and pacing wasn't that good in my opinion. There are a few famous gaffes made in great movies over time. Not that big a deal I guess, but I did find it interesting that scenes don't match up with other scenes. The movie starts out with how wondering Lincoln was when he was President, but in no way, is this movie about him being President. The movie really should had focus more on the trial, then inter-cutting historic facts that has nothing to do with the trial plot. The music in the film is great. It's interesting to see Lincoln playing "Dixie" in one scene. During the Civil War, Lincoln was known to be partial to the tune, but it's unlikely he would have heard it in the 1830s. I do like the Ann Rutledge melody. Ford used the song again in 1962's "The Man who shot Liberty Valance". It's a sweet little tune. I love Alfred Newman's music work. The music that is used at Mary Todd's dance was also reused in 1946's My Darling Clementine and 1953's The Sun Shines Bright. Ford and producer Darryl F. Zanuck fought for control of the film, to the point where Ford destroyed unwanted takes for fear the studio would use them in the movie. There was also a radio adaptation of the movie that came out in 1946 with Henry Fonda reprising his role. In 2003, Young Mr. Lincoln was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. So, this movie will be around for a while, so check it out. I love Lincoln. He had a delightful humor around men, quite the story teller and people really admired him. He was a very good man, with a lot of virtue and integrity. This movie has all that.
  • Samual-M1 March 2021
    The best rendition of my favourite American. Yes, this means Fonda edges out Daniel Day-Lewis despite both performances shimmering with magic.

    Would consider this a Top-5 John Ford film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)" deserves far more attention than it often receives today. This classic film about the early life and career of Abraham Lincoln offers a portrait of the eloquent United States leader that emerges word-for-word in some instances from the pages of history. (For example, the campaign speech delivered by Mr. Lincoln during the first few minutes of the production was taken verbatim from historical records.) The central storyline is loosely based upon an actual court case conducted by Abraham Lincoln early in the course of his legal career.

    Today Americans sometimes forget that Abraham Lincoln did indeed possess less than a year of formal education...Yet he taught himself to read and write and he could quote long passages of Scripture entirely from memory. He mastered a number of difficult academic subjects entirely on his own volition.

    "Young Mr. Lincoln" accurately depicts the nation's Sixteenth President as an ambitious and enterprising self-starter, an aspiring politician with a concern for other people and a devotion to principle and morality. It makes everyone remember just one more reason why Abraham Lincoln remains an enduring influential and inspiring figure in modern history.

    This wonderful film by the great director John Ford boasts a talented cast of actors and actresses, and includes a powerful portrayal of young Abraham Lincoln by Henry Fonda. It presents material suitable for all ages.

    This classic film would make an excellent literary addition to most modern high school and college History classrooms. The film offers a refreshing depiction of Abraham Lincoln by offering a perspective on a more innocent era in civic life in the USA.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "And on the most exalted throne in the world sits nothing but a man's arse." – Montaigne

    John Ford directs "Young Mr. Lincoln." Released in 1939, the film plays like a precursor to Ford's "The Sun Shines Bright", itself a loose remake of Ford's own "Judge Priest". All three films feature kindly, wise, rural lawmen who pretend to represent "American values" and who save "wrongfully persecuted" workers from lynch-mobs.

    "Lincoln" charts the early life of Abraham Lincoln, the soon-to-be sixteenth president of the United States. Early scenes sketch Lincoln as a humble, folksy hero. He's plain speaking, modest, shrewd, witty and identifies with the poor. The film's opening sequence finds Lincoln's handlers denouncing acting President Andrew Jackson. Lincoln then states his own policies: "I am in favour of a National Bank and for everybody's participation in wealth!" Jackson, of course, was famous for his Bank Wars, which sought to dismantle and limit the exploitative powers of the central bank system. Lincoln, meanwhile, would back the National Banking Acts, which created a highly cartelized banking system (and partially necessitated a growing Empire).

    Other odd scenes abound. Early in the film, Lincoln champions credit, which a poor family reject. They prefer straightforward barter. The scene is repeated later in the film, only here Lincoln is paid with coin for his pro bono work. Later Lincoln is shown "struggling to judge two pieces of pie", possibly an allusion to the Civil War; Lincoln, the purported bringer of unity rather than division. Before this he is portrayed as a rural law-man who "defends the poor" and presides over petty disputes, though in reality he'd quickly become a corporate layer, Whig and stooge to special interests.

    Elsewhere the film portrays Lincoln as existing, or operating, outside the "normal" sphere of politics. Lincoln stands for God, moral virtues, truth, the scripture and family ("Right and wrong, that's all there is to it!"). He embodies an instinctual or innate sense of Justice and Fairness which transcends written laws. He believes the state should honour the most humble and vulnerable people and that personal sacrifice – a long walk which he himself takes - is a good thing. Such a stance encapsulates the idealist project of the film.

    One of the best written examinations of this aspect of the film can be found in a 1970 Cahiers du Cinema text titled "Young Mr. Lincoln, texte collectif". Written by all the magazine's editors, the essay became a landmark of Anglo-American film criticism, and what some would call "the most anthologised, taught and referenced essay in film theory", primarily for its role in politicising film-criticism (the Cahiers group at the time were influenced by French philosopher Louis Althusser).

    Writing on the way Ford portrays moral and spiritual virtues as being worth more than political guile, the magazine said: "But this very repression of politics, on which the ideological undertaking of the film is based, is itself a direct result of political assumptions (the eternal false idealist debate between morality and politics: Descartes versus Machiavelli); the very ideology of American Capitalism is to assert its divine right, to conceptualise it in terms of permanence, naturalism, and even biology and to extol it as a universal Good and Power. This enterprise, which conceals politics under the idealist mask of Morality, has the effect of re-gilding the cause of Capital with the gold of myth, by manifesting the "spirituality" in which American Capitalism believes it finds its origins and sees its eternal justification. The seeds of Lincoln's future were already sown in his youth; the future of America (its eternal values) is already written into Lincoln's moral virtues, which include the Republican Party and Capitalism."

    "Young Mr. Lincoln" was produced by the infamous Darryl Zanuck. Some read the movie in terms of the upcoming 1940 Presidential election, which pitted the incumbent Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt, against the Republican party. The Cahiers writers themselves described the film as "American Big Business goes to war against the New Deal", but Zanuck produced "The Grapes of Wrath" soon after, and Ford was long trading in "Lincoln's" themes. The film ends with Lincoln striding off into a thunderstorm, the whirlwinds of the Civil War on the horizon. Here the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" plays, a song which covertly links Lincoln to Christ, a lawman sent to judge the wicked.

    Aesthetically, "Young Mr. Lincoln" is excellent. Ford's customary rural poetry and immaculate framing are on display, as well as his fondness for communal activities, dances and town gatherings. For Ford, family, state, community and moral virtues coalesce into an ideal which is sometimes threatened – by ridiculous straw-men (racists, Indians, drunks, bullies) - but never destroyed. The film possesses another likable performance by Fonda (Fonda's Lincoln is out of place amongst both the poor and the wealthy, but uses his charm to seduce both groups) and a neat vein of humour, particularly in its final act, where Lincoln destroys his opposition with a series of jokes. Like a superhero origins tale, the film paints in broad, mythological brush-strokes. Ford even goes so far as to have Lincoln ride into town on a donkey, evocative of Jesus' famous mule-ride into Jerusalem. This was the first of Ford's seven collaborations with Henry Fonda.

    5/10 – Worth one viewing.
  • kenjha8 April 2006
    The early career of Abe Lincoln is beautifully presented by Ford. Not that anyone alive has seen footage of the real Lincoln, but Fonda, wearing a fake nose, is uncanny as Lincoln, with the voice, delivery, walk, and other mannerisms - exactly as one would imagine Lincoln to have been. Ford, in the first of three consecutive films he made with Fonda, is at the top of his form, perfectly evoking early 19th century America. The story focuses on a pair accused of murder that Lincoln defends and the courtroom scenes are quite well done. The supporting cast includes many of Ford's regulars. This was Alice Brady's last film, as she died months after its release.
  • Sure it was well shot and made, very well shot and made! But the story was just so weak. And the portrayal of Lincoln was even weaker. Not that Henry Fonda wasn't good but the character he played was nothing but a loon. Do you mean to tell me that Lincoln was a wise cracking smart ass with no respect of the law or the court. I mean who the hell was he supposed to be? Cousin Vinnie? I mean come on, "I'll just call you Jackass then"???? I understand that Ford was going for great funny hero guy but I didn't really like this guy at all. He cheats in sports, talks like a real sweet simpleton and does not seem to know were to sit in a courtroom. How am I supposed to take this seriously.

    The twist was even weaker. I mean come on! That was just stupid. The whole story seemed like it was thought up by some 5 year old in his or her dreams. Saying that I liked it enough, it was very entertaining and made me laugh at several occasions so I can't say it's a bad film. In fact I must say that I must say it's good enough, nothing that entertains me and makes me laugh can be bad BUT this vivid and silly story was just so ridiculous that I can't understand how anyone could consider it great.

    I have no idea how historically accurate this film was but if any of it was true I would really have to shake my head.
  • Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

    This is a classic with a legendary director (John Ford) and lead actor (Henry Fonda) and even more legendary main character (Abe Lincoln). But make no mistake, this is narratively slow. It admires and over simplifies the man. And it has one main event that turns into a courtroom trial filled with caricatures and clichés. In short, this is a movie whose audience has disappeared.

    Yes it's well made, and to Ford we can still admired a smart director. Fonda is likable, but isn't especially convincing as a Lincoln kind of young man. There are lots of extended scenes (beyond the courtroom drama itself), such as a dance with its revelry. If you want to feel transported to the late 1850s you might find these parts of the movie work well, but for me even this basic movie trait is thin and not totally enjoyable.

    And it's history. There will be no surprise. He doesn't die of typhoid, survive a duel, discover some new medicine, fall in love with an actress, or change and transform in complex ways. He's the future president, and there are limitations imposed by the facts. And by respect.

    Should you see this? Only if you are a total John Ford fan, or if you like older movies that have a lot of pageantry and storytelling plainness. I do like Ford and Fonda and Lincoln, all. But I couldn't enjoy the movie as hard as I tried.
  • I tried twice to get through this film, succeeding the first time - and it was like pulling teeth - and failing the second time despite a great DVD transfer. The problem? It's simply too boring.

    If you can get to the dramatic courtroom scene, which takes up most of the second half of the film, you have it made, but it's tough getting to that point. There are some interesting talks by "Abraham Lincoln" (Henry Fonda) during the trial. The ending is touching as Lincoln walks off and they superimpose his Memoral statue over the screen.

    It's a nice story, well-acted and such....but it lacks spark in the first half and discourages the viewer from hanging in there. I suspect the real Abe Lincoln was a lot more interesting than this film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    1939 was a banner year for John Ford. He directed "Stagecoach," "Drums Along the Mohawk," and this excellent movie. All three films are now considered classics and worthy of in-depth analysis and study. "Young Mr. Lincoln" doesn't have the action sequences of the other two films mentioned, but it makes up for that with its atmosphere and an undercurrent of the coming Civil War. Despite the quaint rural setting, there seems to be a foreboding of doom just around the corner and the film is loaded with symbolism. On the outside, Lincoln, as played by Henry Fonda, can be easily mistaken for a good-natured country boy with little ambition. Inside, his character is far more complex and torn between which path to take in his life. Director Ford injects as much local flavor into the proceedings as he can with a county fair scene that's loaded with humor and coupled with a firm nod to history. The veterans of two wars pass by in a parade to remind viewers just how far the new country had progressed in a short period of time. The pie-eating contest with Lincoln doing the judging and a tug-of-war between locals are also highlights. The film eventually centers itself on a court case where the inexperienced Lincoln must defend two young farmers accused of murder. Using all the intelligence, wit and perseverance he can muster, Lincoln is able to win the day by exposing the real guilty party. It's his sharp eye for identifying the truth that saves him and his clients from disaster. Along the way, there are omens of the future dropped in from time to time. The last scene where Lincoln is walking alone near the top of a hill during a driving rain storm is symbolic of the rocky road that's ahead of him. All this would be nothing more than a brief trip down history in the hands of a less competent director than John Ford. Instead, this great film-maker is able to project a multi-faceted Lincoln who disguises his intelligence with jokes and stories, but can lower the boom on an opponent at a moment's notice. There's a lot going on in young Mr. Lincoln's head, and Ford makes sure his audience understands that. The rest of the cast includes Alice Brady as the mother of the two accused murderers, Donald Meek as the prosecuting attorney, and Ward Bond playing a duplicitous character named J. Palmer Cass. What Lincoln does with that fellow's name during a cross examination is hilarious. For true film buffs, look for Milburn Stone (Doc from TV's "Gunsmoke") in a small role as Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's nemesis and future political opponent. Also, the director's older brother, Francis Ford, appears in a brief but pivotal scene as a drunken juror named Sam Boone. As usual, the rest of John Ford's "Stock Company" of players are all featured.
  • I don't think there is much on film about Lincoln's life before he became President. Maybe because his life was pretty unremarkable despite the revisionist history of his vampire killing hobby.

    Henry Fonda gave a great portrait of young Lincoln. I didn't know he was that tall. Probably camera angles made him look taller than he actually was.

    Now, the courtroom scene that is the substance of this film is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. The judge might as well not have been there. But, we have to dismiss the courtroom decorum and focus on the search for justice, such as it was.
  • Young Mr. Lincoln is an excellent, if hagiographic, biography with a great performance by Henry Fonda in the title role. It traces Lincoln's early years, with an emphasis on his first criminal case as a lawyer.

    The linchpin of the piece is Fonda's performance. He captures Lincoln's gravitas while still portraying him as an ordinary human being. In particular, he captures Lincoln's plainspoken manner, lending him an every man status even as the film glorifies him.

    The film also benefits from some back door social commentary, particularly in a scene where his clients are about to be lynched. Although Lincoln's speech is directed to the situation at hand, it offers a pointed criticism of the lynchings then common in the South.

    The film does at times slip into hagiography, particularly the ending, which features Lincoln walking into an oncoming storm in a bit of over the top symbolism. Still, it is a great, well made film worth your time.
  • When young, intelligent store owner Abraham Lincoln (Henry Fonda) exchanges some groceries for a law book, he becomes infatuated by it, and decides on a different career path. He arrives in the town of Springfield and co-runs a law firm, and although his techniques are a bit rough and maverick, he becomes well-renowned and respected. After staging an Independence Day parade, a murder takes place, in which two brothers apparently attack a man and stab him to death. Enchanted by the brothers' family's simple ways, and how they remind him of his own roots, he offers to take their defence.

    While in France, movie-making was pushing the boundaries and were creating films that were more works of art than movies, America was making very American films (this is not a criticism, by the way, as America created some of their best pieces of work in the late 1930's and 40's). There was no more American a film-maker than the great John Ford, who was never more at home than when he was in the mythic Wild West, a place of beauty, violence and mysticism. And what more American story can there be other than the story of how one of the greatest Presidents in their short history came to be the man he was.

    Ford had already fleetingly portrayed Lincoln in The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), showing his assassination at the beginning of the film, and then moving on to concentrate on the man accused of harbouring John Wilkes Booth. While that film portrayed the brutality that people are capable of, juxtaposed with a story of one-man's fierce determination, Young Mr. Lincoln shows the brutality of America, and how one man's fierce determination can overcome the odds and make a difference. The partially-fictionalised court case is based on the case of William 'Duff' Armstrong, a man accused of murder who was proved innocent by Lincoln, against a state that believed he was guilty.

    Although Ford wisely chooses to keep the focus on Lincoln's early manhood rather than to fit in his entire life, the film is sill confined to the rules of the biopic. The film suffers by being episodic, shifting from Lincoln's early discovery of law, to his re-location, to the love interest, to the 'big event' that will define him (at this point in his life). Knowing Ford's gift for storytelling, the film is disappointingly simplistic in structure. It is however anchored by a very impressive Henry Fonda performance, whose appearance is uncanny to Lincoln, under some effective make-up. And, as you would expect, the cinematography is superb, and proves that no-one can capture America like John Ford.
  • Lejink16 July 2011
    This was John Ford's entertaining if typically highly fanciful and sentimentalised dramatisation of the fledgling years of America's greatest president. I couldn't for a moment believe that many, if indeed any of the events in the movie happened as depicted here, but once you grant Hollywood the licence it usually took with bio-pics of historical figures, it's best to accept it more as entertainment than lesson.

    Thus, right from the start, Ford plays up "Honest Abe's" virtues of strength, piety, common-sense and integrity and finds the perfect actor to embody them with Henry Fonda. Fonda drawls his way through the part, in a way very similar to that of another stoical American legend he would portray in a later Ford classic, Wyatt Earp in "My Darling Clementine", right down to his chair-balancing trick and awkward turn at dancing.

    The central story of Lincoln's defence of two country boys on trial for the killing of a local bully effectively gives Fonda the chance to grandstand the great man's best attributes at an extended courtroom scene, although for my tastes, Ford overdoes does the the small- town schmaltz, right down to the judge sleeping during testimony, laughing aloud at Lincoln's humorous asides and most of all at Donald Meek's Victorian villain prosecuting counsel.

    There's more corn too in Lincoln's interaction with the "good old country folk" he defends where we see Ford's again trademark idealisation of maternal figures, the way that "Super-Abe" defuses a potential lynching by standing in front of the mob's battering ram and delivering some home-spun homilies, as well as the numerous times the camera pauses on Fonda's profile to reinforce Lincoln's destiny, particular his framing on top of the hill in the pouring rain in the final scene before the dissolve to the shot of the Lincoln memorial.

    Carping aside, it was still a highly enjoyable story, well shot and edited, with a fine performance by the young Fonda in the title role. A bit too sickly sweet for my tastes but in the final analysis, Ford builds his monument well.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In retrospect, this was the first of a one-two punch Hollywood characterization of pre-presidential Lincoln, as the US prepared for a probable eventual formal participation in WW II. Unfortunately, most people feel this version suffers in comparison with Ramon Massey's characterization in 'Abe Lincoln in Illinois', which covers most of Lincoln's pre-presidential period, not just up through his early years as a young lawyer and politician,as the present film does. Yes, Lincoln had his morose private side at times, but Fonda's Lincoln too often comes across as Zombie-like, not helped by his sometimes excessive eye makeup. Fonda's Lincoln periodically demonstrates his willingness to participate in various physically demanding tasks and activities after he has become an established townie. However, I don't understand the point of his participation in a tug of war, tying the end of the rope to a horse cart, which then pulls the opposition trough a big mud puddle. What lesson of Lincoln's character does this demonstrate? Imagintion? Winning any which way? His sense of humor? Perhaps all of the above? Also, Lincoln's use of apt anecdotes in his courtroom and political persona is well known, but his respectful treatment of his opposition was also legendary. Thus, his attempt to discredit a witness by changing his name from John Cass to Jackass would seem out of character, if eliciting a raucous laugh from the courtroom and theater audience. Although Lincoln was known for generally being easy going and careless in his personal appearance, I doubt if he lounged with his feet up on a table while cross examining a witness! I'm sure this characterization was meant to convey the relative informality and crudeness of even formal culture near the western frontier. When traveling out of town on horseback, Fonda often had a coon-skin capped traveling companion, signifying his continuing emotional attachment to his frontiersman roots. However, be aware that sensible frontiersmen(including Boone and Crocket) didn't wear such hats in the warm season. They were too hot!

    Lincoln's involvement in one murder case dominates the second half of the film. The details of this murder, revealed at the end, would seem very unlikely: however, there is a message in this story. The question is: How best to handle extracting justice for criminal acts. Three possibilities are dramatized. The first: mob vigilante hanging, is vehemently opposed by Lincoln as too often resulting in punishment of innocents or of a party simply trying to defend themselves. This is a very effective scene. Fonda would again star in a film dramatizing this point: 'The Ox-Bow Incident', released during US involvement in WWII. This film was not generally well received at the box office, although it won critical plaudits. Perhaps this was because of its ponderous pacing, but perhaps also because war involves what amounts to legalized vigilante killings...The second approach is exemplified by Donald Meek's portrayal of the prosecuting attorney opposing Lincoln as defense attorney. He represents excessive legalism, excessive badgering of witnesses,excessive pomp and excessive ambition to win a case at the expense of the truth. Lincoln's middle way is presented as the best way: dispense with legalisms and court formalities if they get in the way of truth and justice. Spin some apt humorous stories to liven up the legal proceedings. Perhaps most important, a good lawyer will eventually guess the truth and find a way to prove it. That message is perhaps the saving grace of this film, and is one that most people can agree with. Unfortunately, it is very seldom practiced. That's just not the way the standard legal system is set up to function. Lawyers are advocates for clients, not truth seekers, as are judges and juries,ideally.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A somewhat fictionalized biographical portrait of Abraham Lincoln's early years from Director John Ford, concentrating primarily on a trial in which the young lawyer defends two brothers accused of murder.

    The film offers an interesting portrayal of this important American figure and the film is well made, but seems somewhat incomplete without any of the great moments from his presidency or even his debates with Stephen Douglas. The obvious intent was to portray Lincoln as young man developing the attributes that would make him the great man he would become. But the result for me was that while I admired the portrayal it just wasn't as satisfying as I think it could have been with a greater scope.

    In the role of Abraham Lincoln we have Henry Fonda who effectively displays a quiet strength. Fonda's performance includes some gangly mannerisms' and other affectations which are fairly effective in presenting a portrayal of Lincoln, particularly when combined with some effective makeup and the costuming which occasionally is a bit to overt.

    The supporting cast is solid and surprisingly does not include that many of Ford's regular supporting cast (sometimes referred to as his stock company) but we do have Ward Bond one of the most prolific character actors in Hollywood. Bond has appeared in more of the AFI Top 100 Films than any other actor, both the original and revised list. He has also appeared in 11 Best Picture Nominees.

    The film features one scene that would seem to have inspired a quite similar scene in "To Kill a Mockingbird", where it would be done even better than it is here, even though that scene is one of the most effective in this film.
An error has occured. Please try again.