“Young Mr. Lincoln” is a fictional dramatization of an 1858 murder case involving Abraham Lincoln’s defense of William Armstrong. The film is amazing for its depiction of pre-presidential Lincoln, Henry Fonda’s uncanny likeness to Lincoln, and its dramatic storyline. The main issue is that the storyline’s entertainment value is a result of its complete historical inaccuracy. I’m not putting it on an “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” level but the only piece of the court case kept intact is Lincoln’s use of an almanac to argue whether the moon was shining on the night in question. Outside of that, the writers turn one murder suspect into two, surround these suspects with loved ones that didn’t exist, and create the film’s emotional climax out of the questioning of the suspect’s mother on the stand (which never happened). All of that aside, if we analyze the film as fiction, it is stunning. Fonda captures the essence of Lincoln’s disposition to the point that we forget that he is an actor. The performance by Pauline Moore in the role of Ann Rutledge was probably my favorite of the entire film. It left a large impression considering that it only lasted for about 5 minutes. Other great performances include Alice Brady as the mother and Donald Meek as the prosecutor, helping the film to operate at a very high level of acting. The scenery, costuming, and cinematography are average for films made in this time period but the acting really sets it apart. “Young Mr. Lincoln” probably isn’t the greatest drama that you will ever see but it brings an interesting story and historical figure to life through great acting and screenwriting.
[Pictured: Fonda captures the humble, country beginnings of Abraham Lincoln]