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David Mullen ASC

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

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I just watched the new Criterion blu-ray. A wonderful movie by John Ford, sort of a simple drama with a lot of interior dialogue scenes, not an exterior western, with a great performance by Henry Fonda. Shot by Bert Glennon (I worked for a month with Jim Glennon, his son, on "Big Love" just before he passed away) with an early exterior scene shot on the Sacramento River by Arthur Miller.

 

The wide shots by the river are beautifully framed, reminding me of Miller's work on "How Green Was My Valley":

 

youngmrlincoln1.jpg

 

youngmrlincoln2.jpg

 

The first time you meet Lincoln in the movie is shot under a high noon hard sunlight, and throughout the film, Fonda is ofter lit with a high top light. I think this was done for a couple of reasons -- one, it brings out Fonda's cheekbones, making them more like Lincoln's, second, it gives Fonda a sculptural quality reminiscent of the statue in the Lincoln Memorial, and third, at times the shadow under his cheeks and chin give the impression of a beard:

 

youngmrlincoln3.jpg

 

youngmrlincoln4.jpg

 

youngmrlincoln5.jpg

 

This shot near the end was done on the backlot of 20th Century Fox in the area where Century City now sits:

youngmrlincoln6.jpg

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I love this movie! One of my all time favorites. We screened this last year in our film club in Helsinki from my lovely 16mm print. Eisensteins have written a great essay about this film where he famosly writes: “Suppose some truant good fairy were to ask me … ‘Is there some American film you’d like me to make you the author of – with a wave of my wand?’ I would not hesitate to accept the offer, and I would at once name the film that I wish I had made. It would be Young Mr. Lincoln directed by John Ford.”

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I have not seen this film, but will soon. In the stills you provided David, it looks like Fonda has a prosthetic nose on. Is this the case? It looks rather good for the year the film was made, but doesn't look like the Henry Fonda I know.

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