Young Mr. Lincoln
Outstanding, inspirational story of Honest Abe's early days.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Young Mr. Lincoln -- a 1939 classic directed by John Ford -- has some violence, centered around a murder, as well as some talk of "hanging," some arguing and threats, and images of an angry mob. Rather than a bloated, boring biopic, this one shows the future American president only as a young man, trying to find his way in life, and Henry Fonda portrays Lincoln as a thoughtful, kind, canny, and funny fellow, with the tiniest hint of a mean streak whenever faced with hypocrisy or unfairness. Minor characters are seen drinking to excess.
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What's the Story?
Young Abraham Lincoln (Henry Fonda) loses his first love and spends a little time trying to decide what to do with his life. He tries running for the state legislature, but his interest is piqued when a lawbook falls into his hands. He teaches himself the law and becomes a lawyer. Just in time, too; during a raucous Fourth of July celebration, a man is murdered, and two decent brothers from out of town are blamed. Each brother confess to the crime in an attempt to save the other, and their mother -- the only witness -- refuses to name the guilty one. Lincoln agrees to this impossible case, and blusters his way through the haphazard trial, looking for that one real clue that will free his clients. Meanwhile, the feisty Mary Todd (Marjorie Weaver) tries her best to flirt with the thoughtful Lincoln...
Is It Any Good?
In 1939, John Ford was already a master and had won the first of his four Best Director Oscars; this film is a perfect, smooth combination of all of Ford's favorite themes. He seamlessly works in patriotism, myth, broad humor, dancing, and a love of history, as well as his unerring, poetic visual sense. Just witness the scene in which Lincoln (a terrific Henry Fonda, wearing a prosthetic nose and chin) arrives at the scene of the crime. He's framed from the back, a still, solid, black silhouette in the center of the commotion.
All of these moments of humor, beauty, sadness, and suspense, are perfectly smoothed and balanced into one streamlined experience; everything belongs (even the fictional and non-fictional fits together). It would have been easy to treat Lincoln with too much reverence, but Ford and screenwriter Lamar Trotti find a middle place for him, comfortable dealing with the uneducated and simple folks as well as those in positions of power. He comes across as a complex and appealingly human character, suffering regular pains and making regular decisions.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the movie's violent acts. What led to the fight? What parts did drinking and bullying play?
Is this Abraham Lincoln a good role model? What are his good traits? Does he show any bad traits?
Many characters drink alcohol in this movie, and some other characters do not drink at all. What is the attitude toward alcohol and drinking? Is it accepted? Is it frowned upon? Does it have anything to do with social standing?
- In theaters: June 9, 1939
- On DVD or streaming: February 14, 2006
- Cast: Alice Brady, Henry Fonda, Marjorie Weaver
- Director: John Ford
- Studio: Criterion Collection
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 9, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Superb film about Cuban missile crisis, best for older kids.
Talky, play-based political drama sheds light on history.
Tepid telling of 43rd president's rise to power.
For kids who love fascinating stories
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