Young Mr. Lincoln

"Very Good"

Young Mr. Lincoln Review


Considering the legacy of films left by the great John Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Searchers, The Grapes of Wrath), it's a little strange that Criterion chose Young Mr. Lincoln as the first of his films to get the luxe treatment it typically provides. I'm willing to bet that most moviegoers -- even cinefiles -- haven't seen the film, and I'd wager that few have ever even heard of it.

Nonetheless, here we are, with a mid-career, highly fictionalized story about Abraham Lincoln's days as a kid with gumption and a desire to become a lawyer, despite never attending law school for the training. The first of the film gives us Lincoln (Henry Fonda, with the perfect haircut for the job) losing his first love and meeting Mary Todd, then starting up a bootstrap law practice where his primary means of settling disputes is the threat of kicking his clients in the rump.

Eventually the film turns into a legal drama, as Lincoln faces "the case of a lifetime," which turns out to be the weakest part of the film, a murder trial that hinges on lying and stubborn witnesses and does little to showcase Lincoln as much of a legal masterworker.

No matter, as Ford and Fonda's first collaboration, the film is interesting from a historical perspective, if it's not quite the masterpiece some adherents have made it out to be. Lincoln suffers from a few flaws, the most obvious being its schizophrenic inability to figure out just what kind of movie it wants to be. It's actually far more interesting telling us about Lincoln's love life and butt-kicking legal tricks than it is hinting at Lincoln's future as an orator and leader. Lincoln here is kind of a punk, evidenced best when he spends most of his days in court leaning back in a chair with his feet up on the table. What would Wapner say about that?

Fonda is good-to-great here, and you can see why Ford aficionados like the movie. Fonda carries it on his shoulders, despite a circuitous script that thinks it is so clever it comes off as smarmy and obtuse. The fact that the film has virtually no historical basis in fact is almost beside the point.

A second disc of extras includes profiles of Ford and Fonda, interviews by John Ford's grandson Dan, an MP3 audio version of a radio production of the film, and an extensive booklet including an homage from Sergei Eisenstein, who adored this film.



Young Mr. Lincoln

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Friday 9th June 1939

Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 20

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck

Starring: as Abraham Lincoln, as Abigail Clay, Marjorie Weaver as Mary Todd, Arleen Whelan as Sarah Clay, Eddie Collins as Efe Turner, Pauline Moore as Ann Rutledge, Richard Cromwell as Matt Clay, as Prosecutor John Felder, Judith Dickens as Carrie Sue (credit only), as Adam Clay, Spencer Charters as Judge Herbert A. Bell, as John Palmer Cass, Jack Kelly as Matt Clay as a Boy (uncredited), Edwin Maxwell as John T. Stuart (uncredited), as Stephen A. Douglas (uncredited)

Also starring:

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