Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), directed by John Ford.

Reverential, sometimes very sweet bio-pic on Lincoln's years as an Illinois lawyer. Not entirely hagiographic: he had his dark side, as future years would show.

One of the best scenes has him facing down a lynch mob, first using courageous toughness and willingness to fight, then humor and finally an appeal to "the better angels of our natures" (as he would later say) and some gospel quotes.

Henry Fonda's false nose is distracting, but otherwise he plays the character naturally and with conviction. The women in his life seem to guide him.

In a weepy bit, a prosecutor tries to force a mother to choose which of her children (as in Sophie's Choice 1982)) to send to the gallows. This is Alice Brady in her last film; she was dying of cancer and puts a lot of heart into the performance. I last saw her as the ditsy mother in My Man Godfrey (1936).

Would you believe that this and Ford's Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) and Stagecoach (1939) all came out in the same magical year? The unrelated Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) came out the next year.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion with a thoughtful commentary track by Ford biographer Joseph McBride who knew the director and many others involved. He highlights foreshadowing symbols of the still-distant Civil War and quotes other directors' thoughts on the film: Eisenstein, Welles, Kazan.