For Your Information: Star Ratings Out Of Five (★★★★★) Stars

Monday, January 14, 2013

Classic Review

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939): Dir. John Ford

Young Mr. Lincoln stars young Mr. Fonda and was directed by young Mr. Ford.  The three form a formidable triad of actor, director, and subject.  Their 1939 biopic at once exalts Lincoln’s mythology and emphasizes his basic human decency and morality.  Although such traits hardly spell greatness, the film’s release on the eve of WWII proves their scarcity.  Fonda plays honest Abe as a self-taught Illinois lawyer in 1837.  For the requisite dramatic center, he helps acquit some country bumpkins of murder charges after a scuffle turns deadly.  If Abe’s revealing final statement is a contrived Scooby Doo fix-all, that retains traces of screenwriter’s ink, it suggests at least that the director’s fascination rests less with the plot than the character.  Abe’s playful humor, romanticism, athletic prowess, secret insecurity, cunning, and innate goodness are what really shine.  Several sequences are worthy of cinematic annals: Lincoln uses his smarm and intelligence to calm a rampaging lynch mob, triumphs at an Olympiad of small town competitions (rail splitting, tug of war, etc), and in the film’s breathtaking final minute, walks off alone into a raging thunderstorm as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” whistles solemnly on the soundtrack.  Ford’s poetry is so pure and simple it’s easy to miss how his hero boldly confronts his destiny—a tumultuous future we know will destroy the man, even as it defines the legend.

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