Lincoln on Film

Lincoln has been portrayed hundreds of times in films and on tv programs.  I thought that no celebration of the upcoming 200th birthday of our sixteenth president would be complete without a few examples of how the 20th century on film viewed him.

First up we have the vignette above from Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939,  where the title role is ably played by a young Henry Fonda, ironically a life long Democrat.  The film was directed with his usual brilliance by John Ford.  The scene above where Lincoln, using humor and an appeal to “the better angels of their nature”, convinces a lynch mob to go home is pure Americana.  The film is a heavily fictionalized, even by Hollywood standards, account of the famous 1857 Lincoln almanac murder trial.  Of course at the real trial Lincoln was already famous and nearing the end of his legal career, while in the film he is completely unknown and a novice attorney.  Fonda is convincing as Lincoln, despite the lack of any physical resemblance, by his use of dry humor throughout the film, very much in the Lincoln mode.

Raymond Massey probably established the gold standard for Lincoln portrayals in Abe Lincoln in Illinois in 1940.  Massey resembled Lincoln and his portrayal I have thought is the best invocation of Lincoln on film.  Here we have a scene from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, heavily truncated and revised for dramatic purposes.  Ironically Massey, portraying an American icon, was a Canadian who served bravely in the Canadian military in both world wars.  Gene Lockhart, who was dynamic in the film as Stephen Douglas, the Little Giant, was also a Canadian.  When we need good films about American history, perhaps we should call on the Canadians more often!  Here is a link to the text and an audio recording of this section of the movie.  Here is a link to a longer excerpt from this film.


Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln on Film  
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