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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Preparations for Great Things

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) on IMDb

Plot Overview

New Salem, Ill., 1832. The band renders, “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” the people rally round the flag, and John T. Stuart orates on behalf of the Whig Party. He intro­duces one Abraham Lincoln, candidate for the legislature. Going back a few years, Abe was clerking at a General Store, where he bartered for a copy of Blackstone's Commentaries (“That's law”) from which he taught him­self reclining under a tree. His love interest Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore) sparked his ambition post­humously, and in April 12, 1837 he hung up his shingle as Attorney and Counselor. It was at first slim pickings for this “jackleg lawyer.”

4th of July paradeAt the Sagamon County Independence Day cele­bration, Abe judges the pie baking contest. Going back and forth between an apple pie and a peach pie, he looks like a states­man in the making, savoring both sides before making up his mind. In the parade we see veterans of the War for Independence, vets of various Indian wars, and of the War of 1812. What war is next in the lineup? Oh, the tug of war: two sides separated geo­graphic­ally—let's call them north and south—with a mud hole in between to embarrass the loser. They energetically teeter back and forth until Abe at the head of the northern side connects his rope to a mule-drawn wagon and lets the superior industry of the North win it for him.

A friendly fight gets out of hand, a shot is heard, and Sheriff's deputy “Scrub” White (Fred Kohler Jr.) lies dead. The town is about to lynch the two brothers Matt (Richard Cromwell) and Adam Clay (Eddie Quillan) who were involved when Abraham Lincoln decides to become their pro bono attorney. He mollifies the angry crowd by asking them not to deprive him of his first big case, a case he is bound to lose inexperienced as he is, resulting in a couple legal hangings after all. Also persuasive is his quote of (Matt. 5:7) “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”


Bible in handIn “Young Mr. Lincoln” we hear the Bible quoted in places. Lincoln suggests to one would-be lyncher that he go home and read his Bible. He asks one prospective juror if he attends church regular—presumably where the Bible is read from. And Abe himself studies Blackstone's Commentaries famous for its application of scripture to law. This movie is heavy on Bible references.

We may remember our Abe Lincoln when embroiled with the Civil War said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That's from, (Matt. 12:25) “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Abraham had used “a house divided against itself” meta­phoric­ally to refer to the American Civil War. In this movie it could be used literally when Mrs. Abigail Clay (Alice Brady) was prepared to commit misprision of felony (“shield a murderer”) rather than say which one of her two sons she saw holding the knife that murdered Scrub. Under the law both could hang, but the court was prepared to be lenient on one if their mother would give up the actual culprit. She, how­ever, was unable to select even though she'd sen it. Her house would be undivided even in death.

As long as we're looking at scripture, we might look at Ezek. 22:7, where God criticizes a people who “set light by father”, “dealt by oppression with the stranger”, and “vexed the father­less.” Scrub indeed oppressed the strangers passing through, the Clay family. He vexed the father­less, the Clay children's father being now dead. Making light of father ties to a later verse, (Ezek. 22:10) “discovered their fathers' nakedness.” This in turn (Gen. 9:20-23) holds a biblical reference to slavery. Noah cursed the offspring (Canaan) of Ham, (Gen. 9:24-27) “And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”

Said curse used to be pretty well understood: Writer Bodie Hodge (134) quotes “Bible Questions and Answers,” The Golden Age (July 24, 1929): p. 702.

Question: Is there anything in the Bible that reveals the origin of the Negro?

Answer: It is generally believed that the curse which Noah pronounced upon Canaan was the origin of the Black race. Certain it is that when Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren,” he pictured the future of the Colored race.

“Japheth … shall dwell in the tents of Shem”, presages the integration of the White (and Indian) races in the melting pot of America, what would have been under­stood at its founding by Jefferson's protean expression that all men had been created equal. In our movie this equality would mean both brothers would hang together if found guilty. How­ever, theirs was a fair fight with Scrub, the younger brother intervening in a fist fight when Scrub pulled a gun. It was Scrub's friend J. Palmer Cass (Ward Bond) who fought dirty, as by analogy in the Noah story Ham disrespected his father.

Production Values

Lincoln's faceThis biography, “” was directed by John Ford. Original screen­play was by Lamar Trotti. The trial depicted herein was loosely based on Lincoln's real life defense of William Arm­strong. Lead actor Henry Fonda played the young Lincoln displaying an uncanny likeness. He gave a serious but restrained performance. This film is unrated due to its early date of production. Contrary to industry custom at the time, Ford included blacks in his film. They played servants, more or less in the occupations they would have taken after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The cinema­tog­raphy was brilliant.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

YML is a well made movie about an historically significant American president in his (fictionalized) early adult life. He would later preside over an onerous Civil War whose out­come terminated the institution of slavery here. President Lincoln, and for that matter insti­tution­al­ized slavery, is not depicted in the movie, although the fore­shadowing of things to come may be discerned as well as a suggestion of the origin of Negro slavery. This movie was shot (1939) before any of the political activities of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) whose narrative has shaped public policy today many years later.

There is a curious device employed where Lincoln in his voire dire questioning a witness asked him about regular church attendance as if it were a good thing. There the congregant might hear of Christ being mocked (Matt. 27:31) on the way to his crucifixion. Then of, (Matt. 27:32) “And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.” And of the parting of his raiment (Matt. 27.35). Cyrene was where blacks dwelt back then, whom we might refer to as African-Americans. One of them Simon was forced into involuntary servitude to bear the cross of a man who was mocked and then stripped. A naked and help­less Noah had been mocked and abused by one of his sons Ham whose descendants Noah assigned a position of servitude to the off­spring of his other two sons. Jesus (a Semite) was a descendent of Shem and the Romans of Japheth, both of whom Simon served in carrying the cross. Most Christians would probably think that made sense in order to save the whole world.

MLK was not a believer in the deity of Christ, nor in the virgin birth, nor in the bodily resur­rection. That being the case the cross can't have had such a great meaning to him, and Simon bearing it MLK would have likely considered just another systemic oppression. The difference between MLK's placement of the Negro, and the Bible's would be the difference between the social gospel and the biblical gospel.

This young Abe Lincoln was enjoyable as a movie set well before bigger events. Expect more of an imaginative history than historical accuracy.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes Suitability for children: Not rated, pre-code. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Better than watching TV. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall movie rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Hodge, Bodie. Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Pub., 2013. Print.