Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Directed by John Ford
Written by Lamar Trotti

John Ford is first and foremost a prolific filmmaker. But what is more is his ability to make spectacular films. Over the span of his career, Ford is credited as directing 146 titles, which boggles the mind. Obviously not all of these films could be the greatest of all time, but there are a fair number which deserve being in the discussion, or at least merit a mention in the conversation. The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance immediately come to mind, but this film has also received notable accolades.

Young Mr. Lincoln is just that, the life of a young Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is considered by many, including this History degree holder, to be the greatest president in the history of the United States. He did so much for this country and at such a high price. No man has aged as much as Lincoln did while in office, and then he gave his life to this country when he was famously assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. But this film is more concerned with Lincoln’s career as a lawyer, in particular his defense of brothers accused of murdering Springfield’s deputy.

Henry Fonda stars as the famous man, and in fact he was at first apprehensive about portraying such a great man, but once director John Ford convinced him to do it, he was clearly the perfect pick to play him. Not only did the make-up team make him look strikingly like a young Mr. Lincoln, but Fonda has the right personality and persona to play the affable Lincoln. And that is one of the greatest aspects of the film: the humor which Ford infuses courtesy of the immensely likable Lincoln.

The sure handed Ford really knows how to construct a narrative. While this film did not blow me away, it was very evident that the direction of Ford took what was a mediocre story and made it something that was extremely watchable and entertaining. Young Mr. Lincoln is an average tale packaged as something more than it is. Abraham Lincoln was a great man and his ways and actions are something to marvel at, but trivial events like this particular trial are a setting for a film that plays out as an above average courtroom drama and nothing more. The Ford touch, as well as the Fonda touch, are there to make the film dear to film buffs, and in that regard it is worthy, but it also does not rank with the best of them, or the best of Ford’s. But Ford is such a brilliant filmmaker that most other directors would love to have a title such as Young Mr. Lincoln under their belts.

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