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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

young-mr-lincoln

“Young Mr. Lincoln” screens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, 2014 in the Durwood Film Vault of the Kansas City Central Library, 14W. 10th St.  Admission is free. It’s part of the year-long film series Hollywood’s Greatest Year, featuring movies released in 1939.

In the essay “Mr. Lincoln by Mr. Ford,” the great Soviet movie maker Sergei Eisenstein – whose 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin remains embedded in most critics’ short lists of the best movies ever made – speculated on the one American movie he wished he had made.

He chose John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln.”

Ford had made films that were richer and more effective, Eisenstein wrote. But “Young Mr. Lincoln” “has a quality, a wonderful quality, a quality that every work of art must have – an astonishing harmony of all its component parts, a really amazing harmony as a whole.”

Seventy five years after its creation, the film still retains an astonishing ability to tap into our shared mythology. Much of Ford’s artistic output can be summed up in one question – What does it mean to be an American? – and “Young Mr. Lincoln” provides some essential answers.

As the title suggests, Lamar Trotti’s screenplay is about Lincoln before he became a famous icon. It covers the early months of his law practice in Springfield, Illinois in the 1840s, and centers on Lincoln’s first big case, a murder trial. (Actually, it is a highly fictionalized version of a murder case that Lincoln handled in 1858, shortly before he got into national politics).

Watching the film today one is struck by how much actor Henry Fonda looks like photos of the young Lincoln (Fonda donned a prosthetic nose and wart for the role, and at one point rides a miniature mule that makes his legs look ridiculously long). It’s an astounding performance, one that gives us a rough-hewn, unpretentious Abe but which is packed with intimations of the greatness that is to come.

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