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Key biopic associated with the French New Wave,
This review is from: Young Mr Lincoln [DVD]  (DVD)John Ford is no doubt one of the greatest American filmmakers and a key director of the 20th Century - his greatest work 'The Grapes of Wrath', 'The Searchers' & 'Stagecoach' easily holding their own against greats like 'The Birth of the Nation', 'Citizen Kane' & 'Gone with the Wind.' Heck, even 'lesser' works like 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance', My Darling Clementine', & 'Rio Grande' can take most films to the cleaners. He was an undoubted great, and a cursory view of his epic filmography, or the excellent biography 'Searching for John Ford: A Life' by Joseph McBride tells you exactly why...
'Young Mr Lincoln', which has been out of print for sometime and gets a deserved transfer to DVD, now gets to find a wider audience, and is one of the films to which radical Jane Fonda refers to in her recent biography 'My Life So Far' when discussing her conflicts with her father (Henry Fonda's sometime conservative nature is juxtaposed against 'The Grapes of Wrath' & 'Young Mr Lincoln' by Ms. Fonda). 'Young Mr Lincoln', along with films like 'The Big Sleep', 'The Harder They Fall' & 'Johnny Guitar' became a reference point for the early thinking of the critics-turned-auteurs, the French New Wave. It became a case study of that cahiers-du-cinema notion that a particular director's films had an auteurist notion behind them - Ford given the same treatment Alfred Hitchcock was (Francois Truffaut changing the view of Hitch - the shift from entertainer to auteur). Even the sometime caustic critic Pauline Kael described 'Young Mr Lincoln' as "one of John Ford's greatest films." Master Soviet-filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein ('The Battleship Potemkin', 'October')said of it, "Its source is a womb of popular and national spirit. This could account for its unity, its artistry, its genuine beauty." This reminds you that pre-Cold War, pre-McCarthyism, the USA had flirted with communist-socialist ideas found in works like 'Ten Days That Shook the World', 'USA' & 'Waiting for Lefty.' It also reminds you that 'Young Mr Lincoln', like 'The Grapes of Wrath' came out of the Great Depression and the ethos of the New Deal.
'Young Mr Lincoln' is also a key biopic, being made in the late 1930s on the back of such Hollywood-biopics as 'The Story of Louis Pasteur' & 'Juarez' - the famous Warners/Dieterle cycle of biopics that refashioned the genre towards a notion of entertainment over factual/historical accuracy (Daryl Zanuck was also key in this type of thinking)Thus, the biopic as we know it was formed from films like 'Young Mr Lincoln' - beating a path towards such key examples of the genre as 'Night & Day', 'Reach for the Sky', 'Patton', 'Raging Bull', 'Reds', 'Malcolm X', & 'A Beautiful Mind.' Here, Lincoln is placed into a courtroom plot not far from 'Amistad' or 'To Kill a Mockingbird' that may or may not be true (sadly I don't know enough about Abraham Lincoln to confirm!) - clearly seeing Lincoln's early life in event form as symbolic of his later work as a great American president who ended slavery (though of course, it would be close to a century later that the Civil Rights movement would begin to move the US from a South African-style segregation).
'Young Mr Lincoln' comes across as an old-fashioned entertainment, but also sits easily alongside the somewhat subversive nature of such films as 'I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang' & 'Sullivan's Travels' (the latter also reissued on DVD recently). I'm sure the content and philosophy of this film would wind up certain right-wing folks in the US, which is perhaps why Jane Fonda referred to it so often in context to her own radical work (e.g. 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?', 'Coming Home'). A welcome issue on DVD and I think a key example of the Hollywood biopic - an important film that still deserves to be seen and has a content sadly lacking from the majority of contemporary American cinema.