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Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Approved | | Biography, Drama | 9 June 1939 (USA)
A fictionalized account of the early life of the American president as a young lawyer facing his greatest court case.



(original screenplay)

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Abigail Clay
Sarah Clay
Eddie Collins ...
Efe Turner
Matt Clay
Prosecutor John Felder
Judith Dickens ...
Carrie Sue (credit only)
Adam Clay
Spencer Charters ...
Judge Herbert A. Bell
John Palmer Cass
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Tiny Jones ...
Townswoman (scenes deleted) (as Elizabeth Jones)
Father (scenes deleted)
Clarence Wilson ...
Dr. Mason (scenes deleted)


Ten years in the life of Abraham Lincoln, before he became known to his nation and the world. He moves from a Kentucky cabin to Springfield, Illinois, to begin his law practice. He defends two men accused of murder in a political brawl, suffers the death of his girlfriend Ann, courts his future wife Mary Todd, and agrees to go into politics. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The story of Abraham Lincoln that has NEVER been told!


Biography | Drama


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

9 June 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El joven Lincoln  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$1,500,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Henry Fonda originally turned down the role of Lincoln, saying he didn't think he could play such a great man. He changed his mind after John Ford asked him to do a screen test in full makeup. After viewing himself as Lincoln in the test footage, Fonda liked what he saw, and accepted the part. He later told an interviewer, "I felt as if I were portraying Christ himself on film." See more »


The position of Abe's elbow changes between shots when telling Ann that he might go into law. See more »


[Lincoln and Felder are picking jurors for the trial of Matt and Adam Clay]
Prosecutor John Felder: Mr. Lincoln should know that the mere fact that a prospective juror knows counsel for the state does not disqualify him.
Abe Lincoln: I know that, John. What I'm afraid of is that some of the jurors might NOT know you... and that'd put me at a great disadvantage.
See more »


The Battle Cry of Freedom
(1862) (uncredited)
Written by George Frederick Root
Played during the opening credits and sung by an unidentified chorus
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Young Lincoln Gets the 'Ford' Treatment!
2 July 2006 | by (Las Vegas, Nevada) – See all my reviews

1939 is universally accepted as the greatest year in Hollywood history, with more classic films released than in any other, and John Ford directed three of the best, "Stagecoach", "Drums Along the Mohawk", and this beautiful homage to frontier days and a young backwoods lawyer destined to eventually save the Union, "Young Mr. Lincoln".

With the world plunging into a war that America dreaded, but knew it would be drawn into, Abraham Lincoln was much on people's minds, in 1939, as someone who had faced the same dilemma in his own life, and had triumphed. On Broadway, Robert E. Sherwood's award-winning "Abe Lincoln in Illinois", with Raymond Massey's physically dead-on portrayal, was playing to packed houses (it would be filmed in 1940). Carl Sandburg's continuation of his epic biography, "Abraham Lincoln: The War Years", was published, and quickly became a best seller. President Roosevelt frequently referred to Lincoln in speeches, and the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C., became the most popular landmark in town (a fact that Frank Capra made good use of, in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington").

All this was not lost on Darryl F. Zanuck, at 20th Century Fox; as soon as he read Lamar Trotti's screenplay of Lincoln's early days as a lawyer, he designated it a 'prestige' production, and assigned John Ford to direct, and Henry Fonda, to star.

Fonda did NOT want to play Lincoln; he felt he couldn't do justice to the 'Great Emancipator', and feared a bad performance would damage his career. Even a filmed make-up test, in which he was stunned by how much he would resemble Lincoln, wouldn't change his mind. According to Fonda, John Ford, whom he'd never worked with, cussed him out royally, at their first meeting, and explained he wasn't portraying the Lincoln of Legend, but a young "jackanape" country lawyer facing his first murder trial. Humbled, Fonda took the role. (John Ford offered a different scenario of the events, but the outcome was the same!) Obviously, they found a chemistry together that worked, as nearly all of their pairings would produce 'classics'.

Unlike the introverted, melancholia-racked Lincoln of "Abe Lincoln in Illinois", Ford's vision was that of a shy but likable young attorney, who made friends easily, and misses the mother he lost, too young (resulting in a bond with a pioneer mother that becomes a vital part of the story). Injustice riles him, and he speaks 'common sense' to quell violence, interlaced with doses of humor. Both productions play on Lincoln's (undocumented) relationship with Ann Rutledge; in Ford's version, the pair are truly in love, and committed to each other. After her death, Lincoln would frequently visit her grave, to share his life with her 'spirit' (a theme Ford would continue in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon").

A murder trial is the centerpiece of the film, and shows the prodigious talents of the star and director. Fonda deftly portrays Lincoln's inexperience, yet earnest belief in justice tempered with mercy, and Ford emphasizes the gulf between the big-city 'intellectuals' (represented by pompous D.A. Donald Meek, and his slick 'advisor', Stephen Douglas, played by a young Milburn Stone), and the informal, rule-bending country sense of Lincoln. With Ford 'regular' Ward Bond as a key witness, the trial is both unconventional, and riveting.

With the film closing as Lincoln strides away into the stormy distance, and his destiny (dissolving into a view of the statue at the Lincoln Memorial), audiences could take comfort in the film's message that if a cause is just, good would ultimately triumph.

"Young Mr. Lincoln" is a truly remarkable film, from an amazing year!

32 of 35 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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