Brief vignettes about Lincoln's early life include his birth, early jobs, (unsubstantiated) affair with Ann Rutledge, courtship of Mary Todd, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates; his presidency and the Civil War are followed in somewhat more detail, though without actual battle scenes; film concludes with the assassination. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
This being a presidential election year made me curious about this early talkie. I had seen it before but it's been a while and so I wanted to actually go through a diagnosis of the movie itself. So I dragged out an old A&E VHS made copy. Griffith had tackled the Booth assassination of Lincoln before in the silent Birth of A Nation. Here he did it in sound and Ian Keith is great as John Wilkes Booth: "S-I-C T-E-M-P-E-R T-Y-R-A-N-N-I-S... As he yells after he shoots Lincoln at Ford's theatre and jumps onto the stage. And Walter Huston is much more Lincolnesque than Henry Fonda would be ten years later. Also the scene where Lincoln & U.S. Grant are conversating over cigars was kind of priceless. Una Merkel is compelling in an early film performance as Lincoln's first wife Ann Rutledge.
This was Griffith's first sound film and he shows a somewhat uneasiness with the new medium but what director didn't in 1930. Griffith faired better than most. If you can look past the oldness of the film you'll see that this is pretty much a straight forward & accurate & well made(by 1930 standards) telling of the events of Lincoln's life. The sort of way Masterpiece Theatre would later tell stories episodically over many hours decades later. Griffith shows an aptitude for shooting that had already happened in the late silents of Hollywood. He makes quality use of the moving camera. Roving in and out of some scenes. The shot where the soldiers are fighting in trenches during the Civil War are similar to the same kind of shot Lewis Milestone did in All's Quiet On the Western Front which also came out in 1930. But even both of these films hark back to Griffith's own scene in Birth of A Nation where the South is battling the North and the Colonel jumps out of the trench to stoke a cannon.
This was not Griffith's first experiment with sound. He had shot some experimental dialogue scenes for his 1921 feature Dream Street. A short 1921 intro to Dream Street with Griffith talking up the film still exists as well as a 1930 sitdown interview with Huston promo-ing Abraham Lincoln. But Abraham Lincoln showed a 'newer' Griffith. Moving away from the static camera of which he was famous and adopting a more fluid style which was recently introduced by some German directors. Griffith even this late still liked old fashioned 19th century melodrama stories. Lincoln's life story is certainly a subject he could sink his teeth into. He had done bits and parts of Lincoln's life before particularly the Ford's Theatre scene in BoAN. Abraham Lincoln is Not necessarily a great film nor the best of 1930 but a very interesting foray into sound by a great film pioneer and like mentioned before a lot of the Lincoln life is covered quite surprisingly well.
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