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Young Mr. Lincoln (The Criterion Collection)

4.5 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln becomes known for his honesty and solves a murder with a courtroom trick. Directed by John Ford.

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Has Young Mr. Lincoln--the first cardinal masterpiece of director John Ford's career, and the finest film of that epochal Hollywood year 1939--been neglected because people fear it's a stodgy history lesson? Even Henry Fonda, drafted to play the title role, was reluctant till Ford testily explained, "This isn't 'The Great Emancipator,' for God's sake--it's a movie about this jackleg lawyer...." And so it is: a small, slow-gathering village tale about a young man whose biggest moments--such as losing the love of his life--occur between scenes, and whose emergence as a historic figure is decades away. Yet the essential Lincoln is being forged in luminous scenes that unfold with the simplicity of fable, only no one knows it's a fable yet. The French title for the movie says it beautifully: Toward His Destiny.

The script, by Lamar Trotti, introduces Lincoln as a frontier storekeeper and drolly inadequate politician. In an early scene, we see Abe receiving his first books of law in a casual transaction with a pioneer family on their way to make a new home in the wilderness. But was it Trotti or the director who decided that this same family should circle back into Abe's life years later for the dramatic heart of the film, a murder trial in which his wit, ingenuity, and bedrock decency shape Lincoln's first public triumph--and that neither Lincoln nor the family recognize they have met before? That's typical of the movie, in which what is most important, most definitive, most valuable, is always outside the frame, out of reach, beyond naming. Even triumph is imbued with a heartbreaking sense of loss.

This transcendently beautiful film was a modest production, without the Pulitzer Prize cachet of Abe Lincoln in Illinois (not a Ford picture) the following year. Fonda, in his first of six collaborations with Ford, is the only marquee name in the cast, though Alice Brady is radiant as the pioneer matriarch (her final performance), and Ford stalwart Ward Bond has a key role. Sergei Eisenstein, no less, wrote a lucid and impassioned appreciation of the film, hailing it as "a movie I would like to have made"--and proved it by stealing a few visual tropes for his own Ivan the Terrible! This is a great, great motion picture, eminently deserving of the Criterion treatment on DVD. --Richard T. Jameson


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Product Details

  • Actors: Henry Fonda, Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver, Arleen Whelan, Eddie Collins
  • Directors: John Ford
  • Writers: Lamar Trotti
  • Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Kenneth Macgowan
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Unrated
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: February 14, 2006
  • Run Time: 100 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000BR6QIM
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,760 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Young Mr. Lincoln (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Benjamin J Burgraff VINE VOICE on July 2, 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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.
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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.
However, I do feel the movie was true to Lincoln's character and I can forgive Hollywood for adjusting the story to fit their idea of Lincoln. After all, it's not as if they claimed he got away from the Ford Theater and hid for several years.
Anyway, as a movie it is beautifully told, Fonda is brilliant and all the characters in the little town are nicely drawn.
A nicely-paced, humorous, touching and most importantly, entertaining movie. Great courtroom scenes also!
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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD
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...
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