Abraham Lincoln (1930, Remastered DVD), Director: D.W. Griffith; Running time: 90 minutes.
To date, this D.W. Griffith epic is the only talking-picture effort to encapsulate the entire life of Abraham Lincoln, from cradle to grave. The script, credited to Stephen Vincent Benet, manages to include all the familiar high points, including Lincoln's tragic romance with Ann Rutledge (Una Merkel, allegedly cast because of her resemblance to Griffith favorite Lillian Gish), his lawyer days in Illinois, his contentious marriage to Mary Todd (Kay Hammond), his heartbreaking decision to declare war upon the South, his pardoning of a condemned sentry during the Civil War, and his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth (expansively portrayed by Ian Keith). This was D.W. Griffith's first talkie, and the master does his best with the somewhat pedantic dialogue sequences; but as always, Griffith's forte was spectacle and montage, as witness the cross-cut scenes of Yankees and Rebels marching off to war and the pulse-pounding ride of General Sheridan (Frank Campeau) through the Shenandoah Valley. Thanks to the wizardry of production designer William Cameron Menzies, many of the scenes appear far more elaborate than they really were; Menzies can also be credited with the unforgettable finale, as Honest Abe's Kentucky log cabin dissolves to the Lincoln Memorial. As Abraham Lincoln, Walter Huston is a tower of strength, making even the most florid of speeches sound human and credible; only during the protracted death scene of Ann Rutledge does Huston falter, and then the fault is as much Griffith's as his. Road-shown at nearly two hours (including a prologue showing slaves being brought to America), Abraham Lincoln was pared down to 97 minutes by United Artists, and in that length it proved a box-office success, boding well for D.W. Griffith's future in talkies (alas, it proved to be his next-to-last film; Griffith's final effort, The Struggle was a financial disaster). (Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide)
Abraham Lincoln: His Life & Legacy (2009), Director: A & E Productions; Running Time: 516 minutes (4 disks)
Abraham Lincoln: His Life And Legacy is the ultimate tribute to the ultimate president and includes the following:
American Experience: Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided (2001), Director: David Grubin; Running Time: 360 minutes (3 disks).
This miniseries weaves together the troubled lives of a dirt-farmer's son and a wealthy Southern slave-owner's daughter. Together, Abraham and Mary Lincoln ascended to the pinnacle of power at the most difficult time in the nation's history, the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln's legacy as the Great Emancipator reshaped the nation while his tragic death left Mary reclusive and forgotten.
Lincoln (2005), Director: Vikram Jayanti; Running time: 140 minutes.
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Director: John Ford; Running time: 100 minutes.
The script, by Lamar Trotti, introduces Lincoln as a frontier storekeeper and drolly inadequate politician. In an early scene, we see Abe receiving his first books of law in a casual transaction with a pioneer family on their way to make a new home in the wilderness. But was it Trotti or the director who decided that this same family should circle back into Abe's life years later for the dramatic heart of the film, a murder trial in which his wit, ingenuity, and bedrock decency shape Lincoln's first public triumph--and that neither Lincoln nor the family recognize they have met before? That's typical of the movie, in which what is most important, most definitive, most valuable, is always outside the frame, out of reach, beyond naming. Even triumph is imbued with a heartbreaking sense of loss.
This transcendently beautiful film was a modest production, without the Pulitzer Prize cachet of Abe Lincoln in Illinois (not a Ford picture) the following year. Fonda, in his first of six collaborations with Ford, is the only marquee name in the cast, though Alice Brady is radiant as the pioneer matriarch (her final performance), and Ford stalwart Ward Bond has a key role. Sergei Eisenstein, no less, wrote a lucid and impassioned appreciation of the film, hailing it as "a movie I would like to have made"--and proved it by stealing a few visual tropes for his own Ivan the Terrible! This is a great, great motion picture, eminently deserving of the Criterion treatment on DVD. (Richard T. Jameson for Amazon.com)
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/malhome.html
Abraham Lincoln Research Site: http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln2.html
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Two centuries after Lincoln’s birth, the nation is still in formation. The United States has grown and expanded, one cost of that growth has been a splintering of many parts of our society. Competing values, interests, and beliefs, have complicated Lincoln’s goal to find unity in our diversity.