40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Benjamin J Burgraff
- Published on Amazon.com
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!
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.
The Young Mr. Lincoln directed by John Ford is partially fictional account of Abraham Lincoln's life before he was president or in public office.
In the film he becomes an attorney and he defends two brothers accused of stabbing a man to death. Henry Fonda plays the role of Lincoln and it depicts him as a mild mannered man with much potential.
I found the film to be very good and having seen John Ford's film, "How Green Was My Valley" I've had a chance to compare the two.
The Criterion DVD hs some great special features which I really liked.
Disc one contains the film.
Disc two contains a 1992 BBC biographical feature of John Ford (showing excerpts of many of his films), a 1975 BBC talk show interview with lead actor Henry Fonda, audio interviews of John Ford and Henry Fonda, a slide show of production documents, and a dramatic audio presentation of the film with Henry Fonda playing Lincoln again. The audio is both on the DVD menu and in an MP3 file which can be accessed on a computer.
Also the liner notes have 32 pages of extra material.
This is one of the Best American films released by Criterion and I highly recommend it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
In John Ford's Directorial debut, Young Mr. Lincoln succeeds in every aspect of delivering a true poignant memorable and serene film about One of America's greatest Presidents. Mr. Lincoln played by Henry Fonda is a simple yet caring man capable of hiding his ambitious desires for natural law and community. Being a novice lawyer in a small minded town is not easy as Mr. Lincoln breaks up infuriated mobbs, and gives every bit of solace and tranquility to those in need. He is not stern or condescending in the least bit as he reaches out to anyone in need of assitance with pure sincerity. Within in each frame of exterior shots of the Ilinois landscape it only enhances Lincoln's bond with nature as he gazes and reflects onto his favorite river. Abraham Lincoln being long deceased and gone has not at all in any regards disrupted my bond with this great American president. It is as though you are viewing an historical figure that lives in our present time period. Mr. Lincoln even at the most strenous and tense moments (Court Room Scene) is able to contribute a calm and scerene atomsphere with his gleeful relaxed humor. As usual I am ever so grateful to the Criterion Collection for establishing such a presitgious and artful collection because this film derserves every bit of praise and recoginition. A true Gem for any Criterion or history Aficianado...
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
C. O. DeRiemer
- Published on Amazon.com
At one level I liked Young Mr. Lincoln a lot. The film is a black-and-white picture postcard to look at, with immaculate framing and carefully selected imagery to extend the visual idea of early America. It's also a remarkable example of Hollywood myth-making, laying on with a trowel the nobility, natural shrewdness, sensitivity and common-man origins of the man who became a myth. Plus it brings out all the John Ford sympathies for the honesty and goodness of hard-workin' folks. I found myself unmoved by the reverential attitude of the movie; I felt a hymn was always playing in the background, and, sure enough, a hymn, or something close enough, starts playing at the end. With all the research and excellent books about Lincoln around nowadays, with all that we've come to learn about the man, I can't help but think that Lincoln would be smiling if he saw this film.
Yet, it's effective as all get out in portraying a myth we want to believe about American life on the frontier and of the man who became our greatest president. There's not a scene in the movie where Ford doesn't fail to effectively stress a simple emotion, like love, humor, longing, honesty and doubt. He cleverly demonstrates in many scenes, particularly in the courtroom, Lincoln's shrewdness. Lincoln consistently outwits others, whether in a tug-o-war, with a man's name, selecting a juror, facing down a mob or trapping a murderer. He might use a request to sample some turnip greens because he's hungry, but he really wants a reason to ask a woman in private to tell him a secret she cannot say in front of others.
Henry Fonda, even with a false nose, gives a myth-making performance, himself. Lincoln's homespun nobility is emphasized by Ford with such an unrelenting consistency that I think only Fonda's innate likeabilty and skill make it interesting. Lincoln's ambition and ability to move a crowd his way are only alluded to, but Fonda shows us (and so does Ford) that there was iron in Lincoln's soul.
The movie is a beauty to look at. I don't know how many times we see someone, especially Lincoln, on a hill posed against a cloudy sky, with a tree framing the shot, but it works every time. The lengthy vignettes in the first half of the movie showing us the down-to-earth delights of the Fourth of July celebration -- the tug-o-war, the pie contest -- is pure corn, pure John Ford, and still purely effective in making us think there might really have been a time like this -- just like this -- in our history. Who knows, I'm sure there was.
The Criterion presentation is excellent. Included in the case is a 27-page booklet with essays on Lincoln and Ford. The extras on the second disc contain, among other items, a profile on Ford and a lengthy interview with Fonda.
I watched this movie on the Fourth of July, and was reminded that 180 years ago, also on the Fourth, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died...on the fiftieth anniversary of their signing the Declaration of Independence.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I recently viewed this film for the first time. As a fan of director John Ford, I was looking forward to watching his take on Lincoln, who is arguably one of the greatest men who ever lived. I have read many biographies of the great emancipator, and was frankly shocked at the utter lack of historical accuracy of the film. Lincoln's story is compelling, unique, inspiring, and exciting. Why make stuff up? Unbelievably the film bears the stamp of a prestige 20th Century Fox production.
Every Ford film has some corny humor in it, even his most magnificent efforts (Fort Apache, The Searchers, Rio Grande, etc). Here Ford (and I think it is Ford and not screenwriter Trotti, although it may have been Darryl F Zanuck's poor judgment, as very few scripts at 20th Century Fox were put in production without his edits) sometimes depicts Lincoln as a standup comic. It is undeniable that Lincoln had a great sense of humor and was capable of hilarious comments and homilies. However they were delivered with charm, humility and gentleness. This is not the way Lincoln cracks wise in this film.
Any student of Lincoln can spot all of the nonsense contained in the plot, but by far, the most offensive fallacies are contained in the courtroom scenes. It appears that the murder trial is inspired by one of Lincoln' cases in which he defended a young man of murder charges and was able to gain an acquittal by having the court take judicial notice of the Farmer's Almanac, which directly contradicted eyewitness testimony based on the witness' assertion that he could see the murder by moonlight, when none was available on the date and time according to the Almanac. Every law student knows this cross examination, in which Lincoln painstakingly set up the prosecution witness, knowing he would tear down the testimony with the Almanac. It is taught in every evidence course in the country as a graphic example of the use of judicial notice. In Ford's film, Lincoln clumsily stumbles on the key to impeaching the eyewitness and then engages in a Perry Mason style accusation of said witness. It is really cringeworthy. The manner in which the courtroom players interact is also outrageous. The courtroom watchers, lawyers, and witnesses move about wherever they want, speak out whenever they want, and engage in shenanigans which I doubt any judge in Illinois would brook, even in the mid 1800's. Lincoln was a successful and shrewd attorney (one of his clients was the railroad, which he could bill by the hour for his work). His style may have been countrified, but he was not the buffoon made out here.
Fonda does his very best to find Lincoln's great character and humble dignity amidst all of this silliness. His performance certainly held my interest, although Ford does make him do embarrassing things like play the jew's harp in his law office, with his feet hanging out of the window. Ford also can't resist having Lincoln point out that an opposing witness' name, when said quickly, sounds like "jackass." Very amusing. It is a testament to Fonda's talent that I could finish viewing this "picture," as Ford called his films, without running for cover. Every student of Ford's should watch this movie. It is worth viewing to see how misguided a great talent can be on occasion.