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Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)

Approved  |   |  Biography, Drama, History  |  19 April 1940 (USA)
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Humble Abraham Lincoln gains the respect of his Illinois neighbors, growing in stature and respect until he is elected President in 1860 and departs for Washington.



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Nominated for 2 Oscars. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mary Howard ...
Minor Watson ...
Alan Baxter ...
Harvey Stephens ...
Howard Da Silva ...
Jack Armstrong (as Howard da Silva)
Dorothy Tree ...
Maurice Murphy ...
Louis Jean Heydt ...
Harlan Briggs ...
Herbert Rudley ...


Biopic of Abe Lincoln, 16th President of he United States, from his early days in backwoods Kentucky to his election as President. After a time running livestock to New Orleans, he settles in New Salem where he meets and falls in love with Ann Rutledge who is already engaged to someone. Abe makes a home for himself in New Salem, eventually running a store and becoming the postmaster. He's popular with the locals and is eventually elected to the State legislature but afterward established himself in the practice of law. He eventually meets Mary Todd who would become his wife and and is sent to Washington as a Congressman before he is elected president. Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

19 April 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Abraham Lincoln  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Raymond Massey received an Oscar nomination for playing the title role in this film. 72 years later, Daniel Day-Lewis was nominated, and won, for playing the part in Lincoln (2012). While they were not the first pair of actors to receive Oscar nominations for playing the same role, 72 years does mark the longest difference in time between such nominations. To date, the only actors to win Oscars for the same role are Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro. See more »


When Crimmin and the other politicians initially walk into the Lincoln home, there are seven i the group. However, in the proverbial smoke-filled room, there are eight. See more »


Abraham Lincoln: [discussing why he can't face Mary Todd before his marriage to her] I'd have to tell her that I have hatred for her infernal ambition. That I don't want to be ridden and driven onward and upward through life with her whip bashing me and her spurs digging in me. If her poor little soul craves importance in life let her marry Stephen Douglas. He's ambitious too. I want only to be left alone.
See more »


Referenced in Hollywood or Bust (1956) See more »


The GIrl He Left Behind Him
Traditional military marching song
Instrumental version heard at campaign rally.
See more »

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User Reviews

The Man Who Would Be President
12 October 2004 | by (Kissimmee, Florida) – See all my reviews

ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS (RKO Radio, 1940), directed by John Cromwell, is not so much a biography of Abraham Lincoln, but the life Lincoln lived from his early years to a position that would lead him to politics, and against all odds, his winning the election for the United States presidency in 1860. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning 1938 play by Robert E. Sherwood, the screen adaptation, tracing Lincoln's thirty years starting in 1831 to his train ride leading to Washington, D.C., in 1861, stars Raymond Massey in a role he originated on stage, being the best performance of a great American ever enacted by an actor who wasn't. Massey, a Canadian by birth, is not only the perfect candidate for the title role, but an ideal choice. Massey's believability in his role earned him an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. Although he didn't win the election for that year, it is Massey who very well holds this movie together.

A follow-up of sorts to John Ford's most recent YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (20th Century-Fox, 1939), starring Henry Fonda, focusing on Lincoln's early years as a young lawyer in Springfield, Ill., and a retelling in parts to D.W. Griffith's ABRAHAM LINCOLN (United Artists, 1930), starring Walter Huston, ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS starts off on a rainy afternoon in 1831 with an introduction to the character of Abraham Lincoln (Raymond Massey), age 22, sitting on the floor in a log cabin reading a book by Shakespeare, accompanied by his father (Charles B. Middleton) and a stepmother (Elisabeth Risdon). With the Lincoln family background briefly depicted, the next scene follows Abe, who had left home to accept a $30 a month job as part of the crew rowing a flatboat hauling hogs down the Sangamon River to New Orleans. Along the way he encounters a very beautiful girl named Ann Rutledge (Mary Howard), with whom he decides to settle down in her native town of New Salem where he becomes in charge of a general store, a position offered him by his employer, Denton Offut (Harlan Briggs). When he finds Jack Armstrong (Howard Da Silva), the greatest fighter who cannot be beat, a little drunk and annoying Ann, who, along with his other friends, having invaded her tavern, Abe, a stranger in town, comes to the young lady's defense and publicly wrestles Jack to the end, defeating his advisory and winning the admiration from all, especially the respect and loyal-ship of Jack Armstrong. The year 1832 profiles Lincoln acting as leader in command of his soldiers, with Armstrong being among them, during the Blackhawk War period; 1835 now finds Lincoln in a new position as postmaster general. He is visited by Joshua Speed (Minor Watson) and Ninian Edwards (Harvey Stephens) who introduce Abe to politics by choosing him to serve in the legislature, which he would serve four terms. As for Ann, having been engaged to John McNeil (Maurice Murphy), now living in New York for two years, finds that after receiving a letter from him that he has no intentions of returning to her. To stop gossip from circulating around Ann's good name, Abe admits his love for her from the moment he first saw her, and asks her to become his steady. The relationship between them is cut short when she is stricken with an illness and dies. Lincoln quits the legislation to work in the law office with John Stuart in Springfield, forming a partnership of Stuart & Lincoln, Counselors-at-Law. Slowly improving his social position, Lincoln is introduced to Mary Todd (Ruth Gordon) at a function given by her sister and Ninian's wife, Elizabeth Edwards (Dorothy Tree). Elizabeth wants Mary to marry an aristocrat, someone like Stephen A. Douglas (Gene Lockhart), but her interest rests on Mr. Lincoln, whom she eventually marries on November 4, 1842. The marriage produces four sons (the movie indicates three, eliminating one who died in his fourth year), and shows Mary's fight in having her hayseed husband fulfill his destiny, to become president of the United States.

Ruth Gordon (1896-1985), a prominent stage actress and playwright, in her movie debut, gives a remarkable performance in one of the best carnations of Mary Todd Lincoln ever portrayed on screen. Gene Lockhart (1892-1957), a veteran character actor in many feature film roles, goes unnoticed as a very satisfying Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861). Lockhart's best moment finds his Stephen Douglas sincerely congratulating his opponent Abraham Lincoln in winning the U.S. election, something that should become a prime example with modern-day candidates.

As mentioned before, ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS is very much a retread to D.W. Griffith's 1930 presentation of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, with differences being the elimination of Lincoln's birth, his trying years in the White House during the Civil War and assassination in April 1865. In many ways, ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS is an excellent movie with excellent portrayals. Being a screen adaptation to a stage play, John Cromwell's direction, makes no indication as such. Minus Technicolor, it's full of outdoor scenery and historical detail ranging from costumes to reproductions of small towns. Highlights include the well staged Lincoln-Douglas debate, and one where Lincoln finally losing his temper towards his wife, Mary, after embarrassing him in front of his committee, by ordering her, twice, "You're not/never to do that again!"

ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS, formerly shown on commercial television annually either on or around Lincoln's birthday, February 12, later presented on video cassette finally on cable television's American Movie Classics prior to 2000, and Turner Classic Movies. Quite enjoyable as a motion picture, and quite informative on a historical point of view, this production, at 110 minutes, succeeds on both counts. "Glory, Glory Hallelujah, his truth is marching on." (****)

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