1939 Blogathon: Young Mr. Lincoln

Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln. An extraordinarily natural tranformation.

I will be perfectly frank: the first time I saw John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln it was purely an excuse to ogle at Henry Fonda. I was 12 years old, a painfully awkward 12 years old, and in 1994 a 12 year old girl was meant to have posters of Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp (actually one should still have posters of Johnny Depp) and not an actor who’d passed long before you were even born.

But oh how I pined for Henry Fonda and the old movie channel (American Movie Classics when it was still really American Movie Classics) aired quite a lot of him that summer. Up to that point he’d been purely eye-candy– Henry Fonda that tall, dark, stately hottie who’d landed flat on his puss in The Lady Eve.

But when I sat down and watched Young Mr. Lincoln that first time, the ogle glasses came off. From then on it was Henry Fond the actor. And, for the first time, an understanding and appreciation for direction. The famous curmudgeon poo-poo’d the notion of a filmmaker being an auteur (when Francois Truffaut asked him how he arrived in Hollywood, Ford shot back “On a train.”) and was often hostile to the notion of film as “art.” Henry Fonda called him “a great bullshitter.”

You the reader cut the difference…

Released in 1939 amidst the halestorm of Hollywood’s heyday, Young Mr. Lincoln was as idealistic and reverent as Frank Capra’s1939 offering Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and, although lacking the splash and scope of that year’s big budget spectacles, Young Mr. Lincoln is every bit as powerful with its quiet, docile, human simplicity.

The same ideals Ford would revisit, to a more famous extent, the next year with The Grapes of Wrath. Young Mr. Lincoln is hardly factually accurate– and that is also scarcely the point. The film is: poetic. Not in the iambic pentameter textbook sense, but in the languorous, let the chocolate melt in your mouth and enjoy the beauty of the moment sense.

The Backwoods Underdog

For me, the film’s key moment is as innocuous as the self-deprecating Lincoln himself: struggling to salvage a trial he cannot win, the backwoods lawyers sits in a rickety old chair, his lankly legs draped over the windowsill, lit by gaslamp, listening to the judge appeal to his senses. And all the while he quietly– always quiet, Fonda and Ford’s Lincoln– without reaction, holding in his hands the key to his case’s success.

It is a sublimely helmed, superbly acted moment–and a true standout amongst the prolific perfection that is 1939.

(The was a last minute and entirely UNOFFICIAL entry for the CMBA’s 1939 Blogathon: I’m not a CMBA member (one day perhaps they’ll let me aboard, I hope) but still absolutely had to party crash the event!!)

Click here to see the amazing official entries!

1939 Blogathon: Young Mr. Lincoln

Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln. An extraordinarily natural tranformation.

I will be perfectly frank: the first time I saw John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln it was purely an excuse to ogle at Henry Fonda. I was 12 years old, a painfully awkward 12 years old, and in 1994 a 12 year old girl was meant to have posters of Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp (actually one should still have posters of Johnny Depp) and not an actor who’d passed long before you were even born.

But oh how I pined for Henry Fonda and the old movie channel (American Movie Classics when it was still really American Movie Classics) aired quite a lot of him that summer. Up to that point he’d been purely eye-candy– Henry Fonda that tall, dark, stately hottie who’d landed flat on his puss in The Lady Eve.

But when I sat down and watched Young Mr. Lincoln that first time, the ogle glasses came off. From then on it was Henry Fond the actor. And, for the first time, an understanding and appreciation for direction. The famous curmudgeon poo-poo’d the notion of a filmmaker being an auteur (when Francois Truffaut asked him how he arrived in Hollywood, Ford shot back “On a train.”) and was often hostile to the notion of film as “art.” Henry Fonda called him “a great bullshitter.”

You the reader cut the difference…

Released in 1939 amidst the halestorm of Hollywood’s heyday, Young Mr. Lincoln was as idealistic and reverent as Frank Capra’s1939 offering Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and, although lacking the splash and scope of that year’s big budget spectacles, Young Mr. Lincoln is every bit as powerful with its quiet, docile, human simplicity.

The same ideals Ford would revisit, to a more famous extent, the next year with The Grapes of Wrath. Young Mr. Lincoln is hardly factually accurate– and that is also scarcely the point. The film is: poetic. Not in the iambic pentameter textbook sense, but in the languorous, let the chocolate melt in your mouth and enjoy the beauty of the moment sense.

The Backwoods Underdog

For me, the film’s key moment is as innocuous as the self-deprecating Lincoln himself: struggling to salvage a trial he cannot win, the backwoods lawyers sits in a rickety old chair, his lankly legs draped over the windowsill, lit by gaslamp, listening to the judge appeal to his senses. And all the while he quietly– always quiet, Fonda and Ford’s Lincoln– without reaction, holding in his hands the key to his case’s success.

It is a sublimely helmed, superbly acted moment–and a true standout amongst the prolific perfection that is 1939.

(The was a last minute and entirely UNOFFICIAL entry for the CMBA’s 1939 Blogathon: I’m not a CMBA member (one day perhaps they’ll let me aboard, I hope) but still absolutely had to party crash the event!!)

Click here to see the amazing official entries!

Project 39: Stagecoach

project39Today marks the 70th anniversary of the US release of John Ford’s immortal western Stagecoach and is one of the many landmark films of 1939 that Project 39 is proud to celebrate. I was probably round ten years old when I saw Stagecoach for the first time, so pardon me, if you will, while I gush. Even on our family’s teensy television set, the scope of John Ford’s creation was simply boggling to me. The film hits on all six cylinders from start to finish. Character, story and execution are in many ways textbook perfect and John Ford’s inspired, sprawling visions in Stagecoach influenced each and every Western film to follow.

Monument Valley and John Ford.  A marriage made in movie heaven.

Monument Valley and John Ford. A marriage made in movie heaven.

It has been called a ‘watershed’ film, often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of The Godfather and Citizen Kane—and rightly so. Just as those films were envelope pushers that reinvented their genres, it can be concluded that John Ford’s Stagecoach truly did reinvent the modern Western (notwithstanding Cimarron from earlier in the decade).  It was the first film that Ford made using Utah’s dramatic Monument Valley as his canvas, brought John Wayne’s imposing large-than-life form and gruff vulnerability into our social consciousness and proved that Westerns could be intelligent character studies rather than bang-bang shoot-em-ups—a lesser director would have made just another popcorn matinee flick out of the admittedly tired plot. He wove gutsy, realistic action, drama and a fair share of comedy together to create a winning formula that Directors have been faithfully following ever since.

The moment we meet John Wayne’s Ringo Kid—and  really, for the first time, the John Wayne.

The moment we meet John Wayne’s Ringo Kid—and really, for the first time, the real John Wayne.

Although the characters of the film are rudimentary in themselves, Ford turned them into multi-dimensional human beings which is why we still love John Wayne’s Ringo Kid, love-to-hate John Carradine’s Hartfield and root tirelessly for Claire Trevor’s bad girl Dallas.  Paul Brenner of FlimCritic.com summed it up marvelously when he said:  “Ford takes these characters, puts them together in the enclosed space of a stagecoach and watches the cardboard characters pop and explode, exploring how their stereotypical veneers are melted away to reveal desires, needs, and regrets that were never explored in westerns before this one.”
In a year jam-packed with film firsts, legendary performances and technological innovations, Stagecoach is not only stands out as one of 1939’s best—but as one of cinema’s best. Period.