Young Mr. Lincoln Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
In an early moment in YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, the lanky, high-waisted man of his twenties stands before a small mass of citizens of New Salem, Illinois. Hands in his pocket, he speaks: “You all know me. I’m plain Abraham Lincoln.” Plain, it should be noted, is not to be mistaken for ordinary.
Not long after, he comes across a book on law, which he swoons over under a tree, remarking to himself about all of the “rights” humans deserve. With each line, Lincoln’s (Henry Ford, in one of three biographical turns that year; he also portrayed Frank James in JESSE JAMES and Thomas Watson in THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL) emotions build. These aren’t facts he’s reading, per-se, but they are truths. And with Lincoln under that big tree, the viewer is treated to a pivotal moment both in the film and the life of its subject.
YOUNG MR. LINCOLN opens in the 1830s and closes well before his presidency. (Sorry, no Ford’s Theatre scene here.) But don’t assume that YOUNG MR. LINCOLN portrays Lincoln just as lawyer, even much of the film concerns his involvement on a murder case. The film shows the seeds planted, the people he met, the scenarios he didn’t shy from, all of which served to help form who he would become. However contrived and hokey some of these moments may seem–when his relationship with Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore, 1940’s COLORADO) ends after her death at 22, he lets a falling stick at her gravesite determine his future as a lawyer–they still work in providing dimension to the portrait. (The pie-eating and tug of war contests, however, could have reasonably been left out.)
Abraham Lincoln has been the subject of (or at least portrayed in) a number of films, including ones directed by D.W. Griffith (1930’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN), John Cromwell (1940’s ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS) and Steven Spielberg (2012’s LINCOLN). (And who could forget ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and robo-Abe in BEBE’S KIDS?)
But YOUNG MR. LINCOLN is the hallmark. It is a well-written story (by Lamar Trotti, who earned an Oscar nod for his work; his script lost to another seminal film of 1939, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) that considers its subject as an admirable man not because it’s obligated, but because that’s nearly all he could be. Other films have done similar things with their political subjects, but YOUNG MR. LINCOLN offers what is essentially a sliver and lets it be something larger.
Much credit here goes to director John Ford. A master of cinema, Ford constructs a film here that is small yet glorious, direct yet vivid and much more of a feat than it may initially let on (no matter what the swelling score attempts). Ford would go on to direct Fonda seven more times (notably in 1940’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH and 1946’s MY DARLING CLEMENTINE), but this pairing stands out as one of their most pure, and the film, in the end, holds its own in the landmark year of cinema that was 1939.
Video: 1.37:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital restoration was undertaken by Twentieth Century Fox and the Criterion Collection, primarily from a 4K scan of an original 35 mm nitrate print. In addition, a safety 35 mm fine-grain was used for sections of the film where the print was damaged or missing footage. The nitrate print, held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was scanned on an Oxberry wet-gate film scanner at Cineric in New York. The fine-grain was scanned on a Lasergraphics Direction film scanner at Roundabout in Burbank, California.”
YOUNG MR. LINCOLN looks stellar in this transfer, with excellent contrast, fine depth and nice details.
Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
Audio is also commendable, with crisp dialogue and a healthy score.
Audio commentary featuring film scholar Joseph McBride: McBride (author of Searching for John Ford: A Life), offers an insightful and well-researched commentary that examines both YOUNG MR. LINCOLN and some historical elements.
Omnibus: “John Ford,” Part One (42:21): This 1992 documentary, directed by Lindsay Anderson, looks at the pre-war career of the legendary filmmaker.
Parkinson: “Meets Henry Fonda” (49:07): In this 1975 episode of the BBC series, Fonda reflects on his career and collaborations with Ford.
Dan Ford Interviews: Dan Ford interviews both his grandfather, John Ford (7:47), and Henry Ford (4:51). These interviews are from 1973 and 1976, respectively.
Academy Award (30:16): A 1946 radio adaptation of YOUNG MR. LINCOLN.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release: an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and an homage to Ford by filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.