This is one of John Ford’s most humble films. Known for his loud and action-packed commercial westerns like Ford Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers, this film is more in the veins of his artistic dramas like The Informer, How Green Was My Valley, and the previously reviewed Grapes Of Wrath. It deals with a young Abraham Lincoln and his early life, from a young politician to a young lawyer in a small town, taking on his first case, a case of murder where he is one of the few people who believe him to be innocent. And he better hope to be right, since the townfolks are ready for a hanging.
The cinematography for this film is beautiful. Black and white and very theatrical, but with a down to earth style. The last shots of Lincoln, walking as the thunderstorm is getting ready to hit, is as good as cinema gets. What makes the movie sell is Henry Fonda, who plays the young Lincoln. His performance is not of a powerful, glorified great man (of which we all know he’d soon become), but of a young, scared and troubled young man, feeling like a gazelle walking in a circle of lions. He’s intelligent and a good speaker, and thanks to a great makeup job, even looks like Honest Abe. The rest of the cast does very well. Ward Bond, a regular in Ford’s films, played one of his first big roles here as the main witness against the young suspects. Donald Meek, known for being a funny wide-faced clown in films by Ford and Capra, here has none of the humor that normally represents his characters. Instead he’s cold and loud, a prosecutor of the most stubborn types. Very good going against typecasting.
A great drama showing the early life of a great man, brilliantly directed and very well acted. One of Ford’s most underrated films.