320 Young Mr. Lincoln

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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bufordsharkley
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#26 Post by bufordsharkley » Tue Jan 17, 2006 12:27 am

The guy on the last page was well too hyperbolic and crude in dismissing Young Mr. Lincoln, but it seems to me, (just having watched it,) that it's almost unquestionably one of the lesser (lessest?) John Ford films.

...The concept is solid, and Henry Fonda's portrayal is a thing of wonder. Awkward, self-deprecating, but always pleasantly earnest, his job playing the role may be the best Lincoln imaginable.

The first half of the film is likewise quite great-- similar in tone to My Darling Clementine, it allows Lincoln to exist freely about the midwestern town. The early story with Lincoln's first love is quite affecting, and the motif with the river leads to some incredible beautiful compositions. Unselfconscious moments like the pie eating contest lift the film above the standard biopics.

...The second half of the film, however, is a forth-rate courtroom drama, sparingingly enlivened with third-rate levity. The complexities of Lincoln and small-town America that the first half offered are replaced with one-dimensional characters involved with a murder mystery that the audience has trouble caring about.

It's really a shame, that the pitch-perfect performance of the first half of Young Mr. Lincoln was supplemented with a story that not fit for most episodes of Matlock. It's a case of over-blown script-writing, and a bizarre lack of confidence in the viewer's tendency to side with Lincoln.

Ford's genius shines through, to be sure, but that's to be taken for granted.

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tryavna
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#27 Post by tryavna » Tue Jan 17, 2006 12:45 pm

bufordsharkley wrote:It's really a shame, that the pitch-perfect performance of the first half of Young Mr. Lincoln was supplemented with a story that not fit for most episodes of Matlock.
But it does give Fonda a chance to crack a great joke about Ward Bond being a "Jack Cass"! :)

But seriously, I see what you mean about the seemingly disjointed structure. I suppose I have more tolerance for this because I'm a big fan of Mark Twain, who was similarly disjointed in his narrative structuring. And there's something very Twain-ish about Young Mr. Lincoln -- right down to the Matlock-esque courtroom climax. What we lose of a tighter story, however, we make up for in vivid characterization. (Even Ward Bond's character manages to come off as more complex and human as a result of the 2nd half courtroom drama.) So I guess I'd argue that the movie is much more enjoyable if you think of it as an exercise in characterization and Americana atmospherics rather than try to examine the plot too closely -- again, much like Twain's stuff.

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Gregory
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#28 Post by Gregory » Tue Jan 17, 2006 2:06 pm

What's wrong with Maaaaaatlooooooock?
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denti alligator
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#29 Post by denti alligator » Tue Jan 17, 2006 2:27 pm

Thanks, Grampa.

It's been a couple years since I've seen this, but I don't recall the courtroom scene being all that contrived. I really loved this film, especially Henry Fonda's performance. Thanks to Criterion I'll be revisiting it sometime, I hope, soon.

Narshty
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#30 Post by Narshty » Thu Feb 02, 2006 5:37 am


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ellipsis7
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#31 Post by ellipsis7 » Thu Feb 02, 2006 6:38 am

Wonder if that is still the full 2 part BBC Omnibus on JF, or are they splitting it across 2 releases (implying a 2nd future Ford title) like the BBC Ominbus Renoir prog - refers on back cover to BBC docu covering Ford's 'early career' only, different from details on CC website...

Narshty
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#32 Post by Narshty » Thu Feb 02, 2006 8:29 am

That's what I wondered too. But what possible late Ford could they actually get hold of that's worth releasing? Perhaps they only decided it was only worthwhile covering his earlier career with this release?

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ellipsis7
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#33 Post by ellipsis7 » Thu Feb 02, 2006 8:55 am

Part 1 of the JF Omnibus finishes on HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, WWII and THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY - 1941/42... So your guess is as good as mine...

Narshty
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#34 Post by Narshty » Thu Feb 02, 2006 3:48 pm

DVD Beaver shows and tells all.

Alas, it is only the first part of the Ford profile now. Fools.

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Gigi M.
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#35 Post by Gigi M. » Tue Feb 07, 2006 1:13 pm

Here's another review.

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Jem
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#36 Post by Jem » Tue Feb 14, 2006 11:56 am

New York Times
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By DAVE KEHR
Published: February 14, 2006
Young Mr. Lincoln

Criterion Collection
Folksy and cunning: Henry Fonda in "Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939).
The Criterion Collection is releasing John Ford's highly personal 1939 imagining of the early career of Abraham Lincoln in time for Presidents' Day, though the film itself — one of the highest accomplishments of American film, if not one of the best known — is a bit of a poisoned present. Ford's Lincoln, played by a 34-year-old Henry Fonda with a long, prosthetic nose and an unruly forelock, is not a saintly figure out of a children's civics lesson — or at least, he is that and something else, something quite darker and more difficult, at the same time.

At certain moments, particularly early in the picture, before Abe has discovered his vocation in the law, Ford shoots him with reverence and awe; the lighting seems to emanate from his figure, as in a Renaissance depiction of Christ. But at other moments, when Lincoln dons the dark suit and stovepipe hat that are his uniform as a young attorney, Ford films him like a bird of prey, hovering and hawklike. His figure is almost always the darkest element in the frame, as if he were drawing all the light into him, much as F. W. Murnau (one of Ford's masters, from the time he and the great German filmmaker were under contract at Fox) filmed his spindly vampire in "Nosferatu."

The internal contradictions in "Young Mr. Lincoln" were the subject of a pioneering, much reprinted study of the film that appeared in a 1970 special issue of Les Cahiers du Cinéma, which drew on neo-Marxist and psychoanalytical theory and helped set the style of much of the academic film criticism of the 70's. If, as Geoffrey O'Brien asserts in a fine essay included with the Criterion disc, the Cahiers analysis is by now "scarcely readable," many of its observations are still illuminating. Ford's Lincoln is a bit of a monster of pragmatism, who uses his deadly skill with language to (in the Freudian jargon of the period) "castrate" his opponents, as well as an incipient capitalist who may take on a case out of compassion and concern (two farm boys have been accused of killing a local bully) but unflinchingly pockets his fee, even though the money represents the entire savings of the boys' desperately poor family. (I've often wondered if Ford's simultaneously folksy and cunning Lincoln wasn't inspired by Will Rogers, an equally complex figure with whom Ford made several important films in the early 30's.)

Ford's dual vision of Lincoln leads him to one of the most extraordinary closing acts in American film. The film has two distinctly different climaxes — one cold, harshly lighted and a little bit frightening; the other emotionally charged and shot with brooding shadows — that play out sequentially, as if Ford were offering his audience a choice of which Lincoln to take home. For Ford, clearly, both Lincolns were true, and it is his ability to acknowledge and embrace such contradictions, and make brilliant visual poetry out of them, that sets Ford in the very front rank of American filmmakers.

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benm
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#37 Post by benm » Wed Feb 15, 2006 12:56 am

no seriously, what's so good about this movie? Fonda is forever stoic and comes across as almost inhuman (a moralistic Frankenstein monster?). I'm also glad to see that even though there was absolutely no reason for it Ford managed to demonize both Blacks and First Nations people in one scene. The DVD beaver and NY Times reviews shed little light as to how this is good filmmaking other than its influence on American reverence for Lincoln.

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Jem
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#38 Post by Jem » Wed Feb 15, 2006 1:41 am

no seriously, what's so good about this movie? Fonda is forever stoic and comes across as almost inhuman (a moralistic Frankenstein monster?)
Hmmm, sounds like he'd make a good President.

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Gregory
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#39 Post by Gregory » Wed Feb 15, 2006 1:51 am

benm wrote:no seriously, what's so good about this movie? Fonda is forever stoic and comes across as almost inhuman (a moralistic Frankenstein monster?). I'm also glad to see that even though there was absolutely no reason for it Ford managed to demonize both Blacks and First Nations people in one scene. The DVD beaver and NY Times reviews shed little light as to how this is good filmmaking other than its influence on American reverence for Lincoln.
I bought it because it's interesting not because it's good (which is not to say it's a bad film). The Cahiers essay is, of course, instrumental in exploring the film's import, but even if one follows the logic of the Cahiers analysis one still isn't necessarily left with the belief that this is a particularly great film. I certainly would not advise anyone to see it out of admiration for Lincoln or a desire to learn more about him as a historical figure, any more than I'd advise anyone to see Amadeus for the same reasons with respect to Mozart.
I'd be the last to defend Ford against charges of racist and fascist elements in certain of his films, which I believe are extremely well-founded and have been explored with great insight by Angela Aleiss and other critics and scholars. This doesn't take away from those particular films' interest, especially for those interested in viewing them as ideological texts -- quite the contrary.

BWilson
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#40 Post by BWilson » Sat Feb 25, 2006 1:44 pm

benm wrote: I'm also glad to see that even though there was absolutely no reason for it Ford managed to demonize both Blacks and First Nations people in one scene.
What scene?

Also, how do you download the MP3. I put it in my DVD-ROM drive and all I can do is watch the disc, there are no files to download.

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Gregory
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#41 Post by Gregory » Sun Mar 12, 2006 5:07 pm

I'm pretty sure benm was referring to the scene where Lincoln visits the Clays at home and laments that in Kentucky all the slaves that were coming in made it hard for white folks to make a living. Later in the scene Abigail Clay reveals that her husband was killed by a "drunk Indian." Would people in that setting have actually said such things? Probably, but they don't add much to the story. The latter statement is interesting as a reinforcement of the generally consistent portrayal in Ford's Indian-themed films of Indians as less-human outsiders prone to senseless violence. They were less human because generally speaking (Cheyenne Autumn being a partial exception) they were included only as a largely an erratic and dangerous force that threatened the advancement of "civilization" that was the backdrop of the stories Ford told.

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kinjitsu
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#42 Post by kinjitsu » Mon Mar 13, 2006 12:28 am

Gregory wrote:I'm pretty sure benm was referring to the scene where Lincoln visits the Clays at home and laments that in Kentucky all the slaves that were coming in made it hard for white folks to make a living.

"Kentucky's a mighty fine place to live, but… with all the slaves coming in, white folks had a hard time making a livin'."

Not an unreasonable comment whatsoever for young Abe to make, nor is it the least bit racist, just an observation. Cheap labor is cheap labor.
Gregory wrote:Later in the scene Abigail Clay reveals that her husband was killed by a "drunk Indian." Would people in that setting have actually said such things? Probably, but they don't add much to the story.
Well of course they might say such a thing, very probably, and it gives some idea of what simple country folk living on the edge of the wilderness had to deal with. Remember that two drunken white men are directly responsible for Abigail's boys being on trial for murder, so that point is moot.

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Gregory
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#43 Post by Gregory » Mon Mar 13, 2006 4:00 am

Not an unreasonable comment whatsoever for young Abe to make, nor is it the least bit racist, just an observation. Cheap labor is cheap labor.
I wouldn't complain about that comment per se because one can make a case that it was fitting to the character and setting in which it was uttered. My comments were about how these lines of dialogue fit into the worldview established throughout the whole of Ford's Indian-themed westerns.
I will say this about this about the content of the line about slavery -- the issues are somewhat complex and the question of racism shouldn't be dismissed quite so easily. Even aside from our attitudes today, the average abolitionist of the time would have found such a comment racist because it doesn't take into account the injustice of slavery except insofar as it affects white workers. In fact, it states that Kentucky is a "mighty fine place" except for those particular effects, despite it being a slave state. Again, this is entirely appropriate for the historical Lincoln (though the film is generally doesn't even approach an accurate historical portrayal nor was it supposed to) who took a long time to see the necessity of abolishing slavery and was not a believed in racial equality only on limited, pragmatic grounds.
it gives some idea of what simple country folk living on the edge of the wilderness had to deal with.
Yes, an idea consistent with the portrayal of Native Americans as predatory and ruthless savages who threaten civilization itself. This is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and is part of the myth of the development of the West which Ford enshrined in his own particular way. Those are cultural and historical constructions that have been left wide open to challenge and reinterpretation, and that's something that's been going on for decades with respect to many of these issues.
Remember that two drunken white men are directly responsible for Abigail's boys being on trial for murder, so that point is moot.
I don't think they're the same thing at all because of the context I've described. One example reinforces a racist stereotype; the other doesn't. Within the Fordian context, the "drunk Indian" mentioned in Young Mr. Lincoln is a cipher, a metaphor for the hardships dealt to those who bravely advanced civilization into the wilderness, and an example of an Indian behaving in a way entirely typical of his people. If she had said that a Canadian or a Frenchman killed her husband, the viewer would wonder who the killer was and what his motives were. Buy when he's killed by a drunk Indian, it replays a scenario entirely familiar to the viewer; no more needs to be said. It's difficult for me to think of a clearer example of stereotyping.

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bunuelian
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#44 Post by bunuelian » Mon Mar 13, 2006 12:53 pm

Do you seriously expect a 1939 film to reflect something other than the white man's unenlightened view of himself and other races? Compared to what Hitler was slinging in Germany at the time, this stuff doesn't even register. Let alone what most whites in the U.S. felt in Lincoln's time.

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Gregory
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#45 Post by Gregory » Mon Mar 13, 2006 3:51 pm

Nowhere did I say this film's outlook was atypical of its time. It is interesting, to me at least, to consider the beliefs manifested in Ford's canon. One reason it is worthwhile to look at the films themselves is because a lot of room for discussion has been left by Ford's reluctance to answer questions about his own ideological views as well the fact that his personal correspondence about his films have been closed off to scholars. Pretty much we have to consider are the scripts and the films themselves -- and there's a lot there to interpret and discuss. The discussion in this thread started with the dismissive comments of someone who has yet to appear in it again. For my part, I'm not sure this thread is the best place for an ongoing discussion of overarching themes in Ford's work because some of them only relate tangentially to Young Mr. Lincoln. The rest are discussed so well in the Cahiers article that I don't think I'd have much to add. For anyone who hasn't found it yet, it's included in Bill Nichols' anthology Movies and Methods.

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benm
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#46 Post by benm » Tue Mar 14, 2006 5:24 pm

my point in bringing this up was that even though it was a short scene that, in my opinion, had no bearing on anyone's character development, Ford still threw in the two racist references.

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GringoTex
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#47 Post by GringoTex » Fri Mar 17, 2006 8:22 pm

benm wrote:my point in bringing this up was that even though it was a short scene that, in my opinion, had no bearing on anyone's character development, Ford still threw in the two racist references.
A film set in 1840s Illinois that makes no racist references is a fairytale.

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otis
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#48 Post by otis » Mon Mar 27, 2006 7:36 am

Can anyone explain how to extract the Young Mr Lincoln discs from their fiendish plastic housings? Do I a) push, b) pull, c) squeeze, d) all of the above? My poor arthritic fingers are being severely challenged. Thanks.

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zedz
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#49 Post by zedz » Mon Mar 27, 2006 5:56 pm

otis wrote:Can anyone explain how to extract the Young Mr Lincoln discs from their fiendish plastic housings? Do I a) push, b) pull, c) squeeze, d) all of the above? My poor arthritic fingers are being severely challenged. Thanks.
Push very hard in the middle of the housing. Wiggle. Pray. If you want to remove the supplements disc, you may need to ask a friend to help.

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otis
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#50 Post by otis » Mon Mar 27, 2006 6:00 pm

It worked! Thanks, zedz. When I want to watch the supplements, I'll invite you over.

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