It is always fascinating when history retells history. In fact, historical films on famous figures can be a tough tell, as too easily the film can segue into politics and propaganda. Gone goes the story, and instead we are replaced with platitude and biased ideology. John Ford’s 1939 historical drama, Young Mr. Lincoln, is not a great film, but it is a well-told fictional rendering of Abraham Lincoln’s early years (played wonderfully by Henry Fonda), as he emerges from his log cabin a young man, determined to make a difference. And Ford, rather than attempting to cover too much of one man’s life, doesn’t claim this is The Young Mr. Lincoln, but rather, an idealized interpretation.
The film, which is set a hundred years before its 1939 release (1830s), is reminiscent of other Ford films. Those familiar with Fonda’s work will remember his rendering of Tom Joad in John Ford’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and how life within Young Mr. Lincoln much resembles the Great Depression era film, even if unintentional. (We are the people that live.) Remove the costumes and carriages, and the front porches and poverty remain the same. […]