Young Mr. Lincoln

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Young Mr. Lincoln
Directed byJohn Ford
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
Kenneth Macgowan
Written byLamar Trotti
StarringHenry Fonda
Alice Brady
Marjorie Weaver
Arleen Whelan
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyBert Glennon
Arthur C. Miller
Edited byWalter Thompson
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • May 30, 1939 (1939-05-30)
Running time
100 min.
Budget$1,500,000 (estimated)

Young Mr. Lincoln is a 1939 American biographical drama film about the early life of President Abraham Lincoln, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda.[1][2] Ford and producer Darryl F. Zanuck fought for control of the film, to the point where Ford destroyed unwanted takes for fear the studio would use them in the film.[citation needed] Screenwriter Lamar Trotti was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing/Original Story.

In 2003, Young Mr. Lincoln was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


A family traveling through New Salem, Illinois in their wagon need groceries from Lincoln's store and the only thing of value they have is a barrel of old books including a law book, Blackstone's Commentaries. After thoroughly reading the book, Abe opts for the law after receiving encouragement from his early, ill-fated love, Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore). Too poor to own even a horse, he arrives in Springfield on a mule and soon establishes a law practice with friend John Stuart (Edwin Maxwell). At a July 4 celebration, a man is murdered in a brawl; the accused are two brothers. Lincoln prevents the lynching of the accused at the jail by telling the angry mob he really needs these clients for his first real case. Admiring his courage, Mary Todd (Marjorie Weaver) – later to be his wife – invites Lincoln to her sister's soiree and expresses an intense interest in his future.

The key witness to the crime is a friend of the victim who claims to have seen the murder at a distance of about 100 yards under the light of the moon. The family and Lincoln are pressured to save one of the brothers at the expense of the other's conviction. But Lincoln persists and is able, through the use of an almanac, to demonstrate that on the night in question the moon would not have provided the light the supposed eyewitness claimed. He then drives the witness to confess that he had in fact stabbed his friend himself.



The film has as its basis the murder case involving William "Duff" Armstrong, which took place in 1858 at the courthouse in Beardstown, Illinois—the only courthouse where Lincoln practiced law that is still in use.


Young Mr. Lincoln was adapted as a radio play on the July 10, 1946 episode of Academy Award Theater.[3]

The Village Theatre of Everett and Issaquah, Washington has commissioned a new musical based on the film titled Lincoln in Love, book and lyrics by Peter S. Kellogg and music by David Friedman.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Variety film review; June 7, 1939, page 12.
  2. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; June 17, 1939, page 94.
  3. ^ Academy Award Theater archives at the Internet Archive

External links[edit]