BluRay/DVD Reviews

YOUNG MR. LINCOLN

By • Feb 14th, 2006 •

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(Criterion Collection)
Originally released by 20th Century Fox. 1939. 100 mins. B&W. 1.33:1 AR.2 discs

Some may wonder why Criterion lavished so much care on their DVD release of John Ford’s 1939 biographical drama YOUNG MISTER LINCOLN. It’s a good film, and a beautifully made film. However it doesn’t reach the heights of other Ford films that have not yet made it to DVD, films like THE INFORMER, WEE WILLIE WINKIE, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND and THE FUGITIVE.

Having said that, it’s tough not to like YOUNG MR. LINCOLN. When Ford approached the youthful Henry Fonda to play Lincoln, Fonda at first backed off. Ford told Fonda he wasn’t making a film about the Great Emancipator, the Civil War President. He was telling the story of 23-year old Abraham Lincoln trying his first law cases. That sold Fonda on the idea, and he gives a terrific performance. His Lincoln is an eccentric, an odd, likeable, bird-like man who is as masterful at trying his first murder case as he is at winning a pie-eating contest.

Ford’s films are always high on sentiment, and YOUNG MR. LINCOLN is no exception. The film begins with Lincoln courting his sweetheart, Ann Rutledge. Historians have long debated the extent of this legendary love affair. Only Abe and Ann know if it was infatuation, or full-blown romance. Ford bypasses showing that Ann Rutledge died at age 22 of typhoid fever, an event that threw the real Abraham Lincoln into dangerous depression. Instead he cuts, in a very haunting way, from Ann and Abe courting to Abe visiting her snow-covered grave. (Ford’s heroes often visit the graves of departed relatives or wives.) This mild shock helps the sentiment along.

This is a two-disc set. The second disc features interviews with the older, grumpier (yet always entertaining) Ford, a BBC-TV interview with Henry Fonda from 1975, and a short film on John Ford’s early career.

YOUNG MR. LINCOLN has many fans, including the great Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein. Included in the disc is a ten-page essay by Eisenstein about the film. In it he writes: “There are films that are richer and more effective. Ford has made more extraordinary films than this one. Nevertheless, of all American films made up to now, this is the film I wish, most of all, to have made. Why do I love it so? It has a quality, an amazing quality that every work of art must have – an astonishing harmony of all its parts, a really amazing harmony as a whole.


Special Features:
A profile of John Ford’s early career and talk show featuring Fonda, both from the BBC. Archival audio interviews with Ford and Fonda. Radio dramataization of YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, on MP3 file. 28-page booklet featuring critic Geoffrey O’Brien and filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.

Crew:
Directed by John Ford. Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck. Screenplay by Lamar Trotti. Photography by Bert Glennon and Arthur Miller. Music by Alfred Newman.

With: Henry Fonda, Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver, Donald Meek, Eddie Quillan, Ward Bond.

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