Combustible Celluloid
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With: Walter Huston, Kay Hammond, William L. Thorne, Lucille La Verne, Helen Freeman, Otto Hoffman, Edgar Dearing, Una Merkel, Russell Simpson, Charles Crockett, Helen Ware, E. Alyn Warren, Jason Robards Sr., Gordon Thorpe, Ian Keith
Written by: John W. Considine Jr., Stephen Vincent Benet, Gerrit J. Lloyd
Directed by: D.W. Griffith
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 93
Date: 08/25/1930

Abraham Lincoln (1930)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Log Cabin Days

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A supporting character in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, Abraham Lincoln made the limelight fifteen years later when Griffith made him the main subject of his own talking picture.

In Abraham Lincoln (1930), Griffith attempts to cover Lincoln's entire life, from birth to death, in just about 90 minutes, and so it follows that the result is only sporadically effective. It's even more evident after having seen Steven Spielberg's Lincoln in 2012, which tells a more specific, compact story over a more luxurious 149 minutes.

Also against Griffith was the fact that he was newly working with sound. This was the man who had almost single-handedly invented film language during the silent era; his talking pictures look positively hamstrung compared to those poetic silents. The cutting in Abraham Lincoln is clunky, the staging is somewhat archaic, and some of the line readings are flat, though some of his framing is still quite striking.

Walter Huston plays Lincoln during his adult years, and most of the running time focuses more or less on the Civil War. Huston's performance is enjoyable; he envisions a lanky, laconic president, who speaks matter-of-factly and is never too much in a hurry that he can't stop and tell a story. Henry Fonda's performance in John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) as well as Daniel Day-Lewis's performance might possibly have their origins in Huston's characterization.

Overall, this Abraham Lincoln is like a quickie Cliff's Notes version of Lincoln's story, with great chunks missing, but with certain highlights hit. It feels mostly like an antique, but even antiques have their own particular beauties.

Timed to coincide with Spielberg's movie, Kino Lorber has released Abraham Lincoln on a new Blu-ray disc. (It was already available on DVD and was included in the company's magnificent second Griffith box set.) As an extra, there's a little feature with Griffith and Huston talking about The Birth of a Nation (which is also included on The Birth of a Nation DVD and Blu-ray).

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