Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Young Mr. Lincoln

Directed by John Ford and written by Lamar Trotti, Young Mr. Lincoln is the story about the early life of Abraham Lincoln where he is a lawyer dealing with a murder case as it would define his character and what he would do later on. The film is a look into the life of the man who would later become one of the American Presidents as he is played by Henry Fonda in the first of many collaborations with Ford. Also starring Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver, Arleen Whelan, Eddie Collins, Pauline Moore, and Richard Cromwell. Young Mr. Lincoln is a riveting and intoxicating film from John Ford.

Set mainly in 1837 Springfield, Illinois, the film revolves around Abraham Lincoln who has just started a law firm with John Stuart (Edwin Maxwell) where a murder occurred during an Independence Day celebration where a deputy had been killed following a fight with two young men. It’s a film that plays into a man who is destined for great things as he takes his first steps into greatness yet remains humbled in his pursuit of doing what is right. Lamar Trotti’s screenplay begins in 1832 in New Salem, Illinois where Lincoln is trying to decide what he wants to do where he is encouraged by this then-flame Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore) to embark in studying law just before she would pass. Much of Trotti’s script play into Lincoln’s time in Springfield as he’s trying to settle small matters as well as be someone the town can count on.

Even as these two brothers in Matt and Adam Clay (Richard Cromwell and Eddie Quillan, respectively) had gotten into a fight with deputy Scrub White (Fred Kohler Jr.) who is killed where their mother Abigail (Alice Brady) witnessed what happened but isn’t sure. With the Clay brothers in trouble and to be hanged, it is Lincoln who is willing to defend them for Abigail Clay while wanting to get an understanding of what had happened as he is able to get the brothers a fair trial to defend them. The script also showcase Lincoln having encounters with the woman who would become his wife in Mary Todd (Marjorie Weaver) who is often accompanied by a future political rival of Lincoln in Stephen Douglas (Milburn Stone).

John Ford’s direction is largely simple in its compositions and setting where it is a more intimate film with a few wide shots of some of the locations that was mainly shot in soundstages in Hollywood. Ford would use close-ups and medium shots to maintain an intimacy into the way Lincoln interacts with other characters including what he does in Springfield such as judging pies and taking part in activities relating to the Independence Day celebration. Yet, it would be overshadowed by the fight between White and the Clay brothers as the former had been harassing one of their sisters earlier that day as it’s a scene that Ford would shoot on a wide shot to get perspective of what is happening and what Abigail sees as there is a confusion into what had happened. There are scenes that play into Lincoln’s personal life as well as his encounters with Todd as Ford would maintain this simplicity yet it is the film’s climatic trial scenes that showcase the air of drama and tension that looms. Especially where Lincoln who is handling his first case is aware of what he’s up against yet he uses common sense and reasoning to get what he’s needed where Ford just captures the tension but also this air of determination to do what is right that would define Lincoln as a man. Overall, Ford crafts a rich and engaging film about the early life of Abraham Lincoln.

Cinematographers Bert Glennon and Arthur Miller doe brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its rich look for some of the interiors in the day as well as the interior scenes at night including the jail cells the Clay brothers were staying at. Editor Walter Thompson does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in terms of its rhythmic cuts for dramatic effect as well as a few humorous moments in the film. Art director Richard Day and Mark-Lee Kirk, with set decorator Thomas Little, do fantastic work with the look of the courthouse, Lincoln’s law office, and other buildings to create 1830s Springfield. Costume designer Royer does amazing work with the costumes from the suit and big tall top hat that Lincoln wears to some of the lavish dresses that Mary Todd wears.

Makeup artist Clay Campbell does nice work with the look of Lincoln from his chin and moles as well some of beards and sideburns men had at the time. The sound work of Eugene Grossman and Roger Henan is terrific for its approach to sound in how gunfire would sound from afar as well as some of the quieter moments in the trial. The film’s music by Alfred Newman is wonderful for its somber yet elegant orchestral score that is largely driven by string arrangements while musical director Louis Silvers provides a soundtrack that mainly features a lot of the traditional music of the times.

The film’s superb cast feature some notable small roles from Spencer Charters as the trial judge Herbert A. Bell, Fred Kohler Jr. as Deputy Scrub White who would harass one of the Clay sisters that would eventually lead to a fight with the Clay brothers and his death, Donald Meek as Prosecutor John Felder trying to prove that the Clay brothers murdered White with intent, Richard Cromwell and Eddie Quinlan in their respective roles as Matt and Adam Clay, Arleen Whelan as their sister Alice, Eddie Collins as a local in Efe Turner, and Milburn Stone as Lincoln’s future political rival Stephen A. Douglas who is also a rival vying for the affections of Mary Todd. Ward Bond is terrific in a small role as Deputy White’s friend John Palmer Cass as a man who claims to saw what happened while raising questions about what he really saw.

Pauline Moore and Marjorie Weaver are fantastic in their respective as Ann Rutledge and Mary Todd with the former being a guide to Lincoln in his career and the latter being someone interested in the man as someone who is driven and determined. Alice Brady is excellent as Abigail Clay as the mother of the Clay brothers who saw what happened but is in conflict to reveal the truth as she doesn’t want to put one or both of her sons in jail. Finally, there’s Henry Fonda in a phenomenal performance as Abraham Lincoln as a man who would become a lawyer as he tries to make sense over a murder case as well as meet the people he’s defending where Fonda displays this air of sensitivity and humbleness as a man that just wants to do what is right and be helpful to everyone.

Young Mr. Lincoln is a spectacular from John Ford that features a great performance from Henry Fonda. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous photography, and its story of a young Lincoln trying to be a man that people can count on. It’s a film that showcases a man who would be great as he would take his first steps but also keep his feet on the ground to know that he’s just trying to be a good man. In the end, Young Mr. Lincoln is a sensational film from John Ford.

© thevoid99 2019


Drew said...

I wish that I liked this film, but I was just so...bored. I didn't find Fonda compelling at all, but he wasn't my cup of tea as an actor anyways so I wasn't expecting to be wowed.

thevoid99 said...

@Drew-Sorry it didn't work for you. I ended up enjoying much more than I think you did and part of it was because of Henry Fonda who took a different approach to playing Lincoln.