Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1939. Twentieth Century Fox. Screenplay by Lamar Trotti. Cinematography by Bert Glennon. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by Richard Day, Mark-Lee Kirk. Costume Design by Royer. Film Editing by Walter Thompson.
Henry Fonda is perfectly cast (with an impressive prosthetic nose) as Honest Abe, with John Ford’s sturdy direction telling a powerful tale of Lincoln’s younger days. Despite a lack of formal education, Lincoln’s interest in the law leads him to set himself up in an office and take on cases, an explosive one landing in his lap when two rural boys come to town for a county fair and get tangled up in the murder of a local troublemaker (the case is based on a real one, albeit one that Lincoln himself never worked on). Things look dicey considering that the two young defendants are brothers, one of them possibly not guilty but both of them refusing to admit who did it, while their mother (Alice Brady in her final role) has secrets of her own to keep because having to condemn one son is harder than risking losing them both. Rich photography and an outstanding cast are just the beginning of this incredibly satisfying experience.
The Criterion Collection: #320
Academy Award Nomination: Best Original Story