Next up from 1939, we have the classic Young Mr. Lincoln, starring Henry Fonda.
In New Salem, Illinois, Abe Lincoln (Henry Fonda) is running for the state legislature. After making a speech, he makes a trade with the Clay family, who is passing through in their wagon. Since they don’t have any money, he takes a barrel containing some books, including Blackstone Commentaries. The book inspires him to learn more about law and Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore) encourages him to study it. After Ann’s death, Abe moves to Springfield, where he tries to set up as a lawyer. One Independence Day, Abigail Clay (Alice Brady) comes to town with her two grown sons, Adam (Eddie Quillan) and Matt (Richard Cromwell). That night, they get into a fight with deputy Scrub White (Fred Kohler, Jr.) who pulls a gun on them, but ends up being killed by a knife. Abigail gets there just before it happens, and Scrub’s buddy J. Palmer Cass (Ward Bond) gets there, and starts accusing the two of murder. The sheriff comes and arrests them, but a crowd gathers and gets riled up, becoming a lynch mob. Abe gets in their way and manages to talk them down, while declaring himself to be their lawyer. So now he has the challenge of going against a more experienced lawyer as he tries to help the Clay family avoid either brother being hanged.
All I can say is this is just an absolutely wonderful movie! Of course, it goes without saying that Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln is the best part of the movie. He just seems to fit the part, giving us a performance of a man who wants to learn, and wants to do the right thing, no matter what. His speech may be simple, but he is still smart! My own opinion is that, if this were released in any other year, I would have said he should have at least been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (if not win it). But, this was 1939, Hollywood’s golden year, with so many great films and performances.
But I would hardly say Henry Fonda is the only reason to see this movie. The rest of the supporting cast is great, too! With a few future TV stars, such as Ward Bond (from Wagon Train), Milburn Stone (from TV’s Gunsmoke) and a very young Jack Kelly (Maverick), it’s a lot of fun! And Donald Meek as the opposing prosecutor is wonderfully nasty, making us hate him when he tries to make Abigail Clay reveal which of her sons killed the deputy. And the whole courtroom section of the movie is worth it alone, not just for some of the drama, but for some of the humor, too (especially when Henry Fonda’s Abe Lincoln is grilling Ward Bond’s character about his name 😉 ). Honestly, the only really disappointing thing about the movie is that it is, for the most part, fictional (although the court case was based on one Lincoln dealt with in the 1850s). Still, it’s fun to see some of the various historical figures connected to Abraham Lincoln. However you look at it, I can very easily say this is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection and is one hour, forty minutes in length.
My Rating: 10/10