Young Mr. Lincoln (Criterion Collection)
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Few historical figures are as revered as Abraham Lincoln, and few director-star pairings embody classic American cinema as perfectly as that of John Ford and Henry Fonda. In Young Mr. Lincoln, their first collaboration, Fonda gives one of the finest performances of his career, as the young president-to-be struggling with an incendiary murder case as a novice lawyer. Compassionate and assured, this is an indelible piece of Americana.
Even though he was the subject of some 158 films, this movie perhaps defines Lincoln on screen--despite the fact that Young Mr. Lincoln was released in what was perhaps film's finest year, 1939. It certainly endured stiff competition: Destry Rides Again, Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men, and Wizard of Oz. Young Mr. Lincoln explores Lincoln's budding interest in politics (he accepts a law book as payment at his grocery store), a bittersweet relationship with a girl to whom he shares his dreams, his first law office, and as he meets Mary Todd. The film's highlight is the court trial. Even in his earliest performances, Fonda easily switched between comedic and dramatic. It's remarkable this was actually one of his earlier films--what an onus of responsibility to play the country's most revered president! Fonda succeeds, and performs valiantly and credibly. His portrayal is kindly, respectful, admirable, and brilliant. No president could ask for more. --N.F. Mendoza
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Top Customer Reviews
You may have met Him-did you not
His notice sudden is-
But I never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone-"
- Emily Dickinson
Today, Lincoln is a figure of fun, with his top-hat. Sometime in 1965, the top hat acquired more of an association with charlatans, than with old Abe.
In mid-century America you could not go broke writing books about Lincoln, and Edmund Wilson, the mid-century critic, said that he could not think of Lincoln without emotion. Today, the most popular book about Abe deconstructs him as a racist who wanted to send the slaves back to Africa.
I'm afraid, however, that at least one of Lincoln's crimes was his humble background. In a country where mentioning social origins was, in Lincoln's time and ours, impolite, the fact that it is not mentioned makes poor origins on balance a defect in the man.
Didn't Daisy say, "rich girls don't marry poor boys, Jay Gatsby!"?
John Ford usually made Westerns, but in the 1830s, Illinois was part of the frontier. The Oxford History of the American West places the Western frontier somewhere near Amherst, Massachusetts in 1680 around the time of King Phillip's war. Today, the West is a few feet of beach at Half Moon Bay, having failed to ingest Hanoi at the other edge of the big water. There is much of the Western in this film, although the showdown takes place in a court of law.
Certain "feminist" critics have renarrated the plot line of this film, wherein Lincoln establishes "the patriarchal order of the frontier."
The best of these feminist critics leave it, at that. At that point they have done us all a service, having renarrated, accurately.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Young Abe Lincoln is an excellent film about one of the most popular presidents of our country in his earlier life. Read morePublished on Dec 26 2001 by Daryl Inman
The reviewer below criticizes the movie's historical inaccuracies which is certainly valid. I am in his/her debt to have learned the real story. Read morePublished on Aug. 22 2000 by clutchhitter
I fear that many people, with an aversion to stories of the Civil War, will turn away from this film assuming it's about politics and, or about events leading up to that war. Read morePublished on March 22 2000