Saturday, February 20, 2016

Young Mr. Lincoln

You'd think there would be some thematic tie-in with To Kill a Mockingbird, but there isn't. Young Honest Abe never says a word one way or the other on slavery, and only one black person appears in the entire hour and thirty-nine minute runtime. As a butler presenting Mr. Lincoln's calling card. The movie is actually concerned with "How did he pick up law?" and a hypothetical first case. It is, as to be expected, somewhat schmaltzy, coming out as it did in 1939. It was very unfashionable then to be critical of beloved presidents. The closest they come is he makes a lot of self-effacing wisecracks. And they do give Henry Fonda a wart, but Henry Fonda was definitely far handsomer than Lincoln. They don't make Abe Lincolns movie stars after all. The movie concerns Abe deciding to take up law after getting a barrel of old books in a trade, including Blackstone's Commentaries. He mostly gets along with hard-headed sense and an imposing physique, until two young men from a small country family are accused of murdering a local deputy. Abe stops a lynching by taking the men on as clients, and the second half of the movie is pretty much devoted to the trial. This is based on an actual trial Abraham Lincoln acted as a lawyer in - for one "Duff" Armstrong, and like the film, the eyewitness was proved faulty by an almanac. It really is rather clever. But it definitely was not as dramatic as it was in the movie. Though maybe that is the thematic tie-in - a person is wrongfully accused to cover up for the guilty, though kissing a black man and killing a guy in cold blood are in pretty different leagues. This movie is all right. I wouldn't say avoid it by any stretch, but it doesn't really seem one to specifically seek out unless you're a huge fan of pre-Civil War movies, Abraham Lincoln, or Henry Fonda.

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