Young Mr. Lincoln Movie Poster Image

Young Mr. Lincoln



Outstanding, inspirational story of Honest Abe's early days.
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1939
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The story takes place before Abraham Lincoln became a career politician and was practicing law. During the story he takes on a tremendous challenge, even though the odds are against him, because he believes it's the right thing to do. With a clear, calm demeanor he succeeds. Underscores the idea of American justice and fairness.

Positive role models

There's hardly a better role model than old Abraham Lincoln, here made into an appealingly wise, cunning, funny character. He shows empathy and courage, wisdom and kindness. He's shown to be a man of the people, associating with just about everyone. He does have a slight mean streak from time to time, which manifests itself in the face of hypocrisy, but it's possible to overlook this in the face of all the other great attributes.


In a key scene, we see a fistfight that results in a man's death. A gunshot is heard and bloody knife is found at the scene. This stuff is mostly shown artfully, or at a distance. Otherwise, an angry mob attempts and fails to lynch the murder suspects. A couple of bullies are seen picking on a family from out of town. There's a lot of talk about "hanging" the accused murderers. Minor characters die, and characters sometimes talk about death. Characters occasionally argue and threaten one another.


Some minor flirting, and dancing.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Several minor characters are shown to be falling-down drunk. Drinking directly leads to the killing at the center of the plot. One of the jurors at the trial is a comical drunk; he brings his own jug to court and hiccups from time to time.

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.

Parents say

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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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 9, 1939
DVD/Streaming release date:February 14, 2006
Cast:Alice Brady, Henry Fonda, Marjorie Weaver
Director:John Ford
Studio:Criterion Collection
Character strengths:Courage, Integrity
Run time:100 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 15 years old Written bymoviefan115 March 25, 2012

John Ford's Abraham Lincoln rocks!

This is a very great film that should be watched by everyone once in their lifetime. Or twice. Or three times. Henry Fonda's greatest role might have been Abraham Lincoln as he plays him with dignity, innocence, and grace that you don't doubt his performance. Note: There is a murder, but thankfully it isn't shown. One more note: The ending might be the first metaphor that your kids might notice.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence