Combustible Celluloid
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With: Henry Fonda, Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver, Arleen Whelan, Eddie Collins, Pauline Moore, Richard Cromwell, Donald Meek, Judith Dickens, Eddie Quillan, Spencer Charters, Ward Bond
Written by: Lamar Trotti
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100
Date: 05/30/1939

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Stovepipe of Peace

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Young Mr. Lincoln is one of John Ford's most perfectly realized works, an effortless jelling of his bawdy sense of humor, his patriotism, his mythical sense of history and his gorgeous, cinematic poetry. Henry Fonda gives a terrific, canny performance (with a prosthetic nose and chin) as Lincoln, stuck at a crossroads between practicing politics and law. Very often he spends long moments just watching or pondering, and his face subtly reveals great roiling ideas. The bulk of the film concerns his first case, very roughly based on fact, defending a couple of farmers accused of manslaughter. Lincoln is a perpetually larger-than-life figure, and it would have been easy for Ford (or any filmmaker) to fall into a trap, treating him with too much reverence. But screenwriter Lamar Trotti and Ford place Lincoln in a strange place between all other men; he's a mediator that knows how to treat those less fortunate and less educated, as well as those who occupy positions of power. He's just as at home spending time with the gentle, loving family of the accused as he is in the raucous courtroom (where people show up drunk, take naps and generally wait for the lynching to begin). In essence, this Lincoln helped bring humanity to a wild, unruly nation, and Ford has done him justice in this beautiful, funny, entertaining film.

DVD Details: The Criterion Collection once again tops its own best work with this awesome two-disc set. Besides a remastered transfer of the film (with optional subtitles), we get a BBC profile of Ford, a TV interview with Fonda, audio interviews with both Ford and Fonda (conducted by Ford's grandson), a radio play, a gallery of production documents, and a great 28-page booklet with essays by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin).

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