Fonda often told this story, indicating one of the reasons why Young Mr Lincoln still endures: “I didn’t know Ford. I knew his work and I used to hang around the set, watching him shoot Stagecoach. I stood there at his desk like a guard with his white hat in his hand and he was the admiral. His first words were something like, ‘What’s all this shit that you don’t want to play Lincoln? You think he’s the fuckin’ President? He’s a young, jackleg lawyer from Springfield, for Christ’s sake’. And that’s how he intimidated and persuaded me”. The last time democracy nearly died all over the world, movies and radio were the social networks of choice. As Hollywood cinema reached its peak as a popular art, it also faced the historical task of promoting and updating democratic myth. Premiering just two months after the supremely downbeat Let Us Live, Ford and Fonda’s Lincoln met this task – and transcended it. The film remains invaluable today not only for the passion it unlocks in admirers and skeptics alike (e.g. Sergei Eisenstein’s hymn from 1945 vs the “Cahiers du cinéma” critique of 1970), and not just because Ford himself always named it among his favorites. It is loved because it is so alive – in concrete filmmaking detail as in its dialectical dance of body and mind, nature and law, remembrance and premonition. Geoffrey O’Brien has noted the director’s “mercurial ability to be in two places at once. If Ford’s Lincoln exhibits at once a radiant sincerity and the devious subtlety of a trickster, he is to that extent the director’s mirror image”. This image is further mirrored in “Fonda’s remarkable performance. […] His location in space, his relative distance from those around him, his physical stance, his degree of comfort or discomfort: these are constant reference points. We can’t take our eyes off him, and yet there are moments when he is almost lost in the crowd. His blossoming as a politician, as he confronts the mob seeking to lynch his clients, is balanced by the moments of turning away, of looking into the distance or into himself. Every point of contact or loss of contact is registered with an electric hypersensitivity, not least in scenes that seem bathed in pastoral tranquility”.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Lamar Trotti. F.: Arthur Miller, Bert Glennon. M.: Walter Thompson. Scgf.: Richard Day, Mark-Lee Kirk. Int.: Henry Fonda (Abraham Lincoln), Alice Brady (Abigail Clay), Marjorie Weaver (Mary Todd), Arleen Whelan (Hannah Clay), Eddie Collins (Efe Turner), Pauline Moore (Ann Rutledge), Richard Cromwell (Matt Clay), Donald Meek (John Felder), Judith Dickens (Carrie Sue), Eddie Quillan (Adam Clay). Prod.: Kenneth Macgowan, Darryl F. Zanuck per 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. DCP. D.: 100’. Bn.
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