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Young Mr. Lincoln: The Criterion Collection

1 rating: 5.0
Classics movie directed by John Ford

HasYoung Mr. Lincoln--the first cardinal masterpiece of director John Ford's career, and the finest film of that epochal Hollywood year 1939--been neglected because people fear it's a stodgy history lesson? Even Henry Fonda, drafted to play the title … see full wiki

Tags: Movies
Director: John Ford
Genre: Classics
1 review about Young Mr. Lincoln: The Criterion Collection

Beautiful film that aims to illustrate a life through a single episode

  • Jan 19, 2007
While Ford's remarkably photographed film covers ten years in the life of young Abraham Lincoln, the focus is on a single episode of his life that only a master of nuance like Ford could use to tell effectively the whole story of his career. The first several scenes, are simply a series of moments that establish a mood and Lincoln's attitude: he is smart but uneducated, he was in love with a woman who believes in him and whose death motivates him to take up her challenge to "be somebody", he is simultaneously introspective and isolated and yet more at home with the "common people" than with elites, able to connect by not seeming to take himself all that seriously, he understands the law as a tool for overcoming wrongs and achieving rights rather than an end in itself. The story itself gets rolling when, after he's established himself as a new lawyer, a couple of country kids get in a fight with a local bully who also happens to be a deputy and accidentally kill him. His defense of the kids simultaneously illustrates: (1) Lincoln's capacity to appeal to simple intuitions of right and wrong, sometimes through humor and self-deprecation and simple story telling, that spoke to an American populace so far not entirely committed to lawfulness; (2) tied to that theme is the idea that the people's sense of justice was rooted in feeling -- as evidenced by their sense that a lynching performed in outrage would serve justice -- so Lincoln understood that for the people to commit themselves to the law required an appeal to the same level of feeling and intuition that drove them to be more or less neighborly for the most part and to group together in outrage and vengeance on occasion; (3) Lincoln's ambiguous sense of ambition: attracted to a higher life, and yet feeling a bit out of place within it; motivated in part by a desire for fairness, but in part by a longing to be respected and to demonstrate the condescension of the elite and educated to be misplaced. It is a compelling piece of filmmaking -- illustrative of the American style of mythmaking that aims to show the "ordinary" common man behind the legend rather than the legendary origins of a hero. Criterion has, as usual, done a remarkable job with the film -- that visually seems not to have aged at all.

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