Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Abe Lincoln In Illinois (1940)

Abe Lincoln In Illinois

I think that out of all the Presidents we have come to know we seem to idealize Abraham Lincoln the most. Even considering movies, both past and current ones, it seems like Abraham's character remains untouched and idealized. Current movies tend to focus on the flaws of sitting presidents in the want of making these men relate-able to the audience. “Nixon” (1995) was like that “Thirteen Days” (2000) was like that. You even have George Washington in the 2000 History Channel movie “The Crossing” seen in somewhat of a lesser light. Whether good or bad, when it comes to Abraham Lincoln it seems that we see him as the reluctant hero with the quick witted tongue. I have to admit that I enjoy my idealized version of Lincoln from time to time, as my review of “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939) shows. However, we must remember that the man who we tend to list in our top presidents of all time is also the same president who did arrest and imprison people without warrant, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, ignoring judicial orders, was weak in the wording of his Emancipation Proclamation, and who arguably led the nation to the Civil War. These are issues we never see addressed in our movies of Lincoln and it seems unlikely we ever will.

This movie is no exception. We see Abe's journey from his later youth reading poetry while living with his folks to the day after his election as president. We see his meeting of his two greatest loves, Ann Rutledge and Mary Todd. We see him taking all sorts of different jobs that grew him into the man he would become. We watch an amazing scene of Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debating for a spot in the legislature. There are many different aspects that this movie focuses on and the flow from one to another is very well paced. The movie seems to hit all the big points of Lincoln's life before becoming president and even focusing on a few events and characters that are lesser known. Where “Young Mr. Lincoln” focused on one specific time period of Lincoln's life, this movie does a good job of bringing in a good collection of many times in Lincoln's life and career.

Grade – B-

This is a decent movie to be sure. I was not sorry that I saw it. There are, however, several flaws that I think kept me from giving the movie a better score. Raymon Massey as Lincoln does a good job and looks pretty fair to the character. However, whether it was Massey's portrayal, the director, or the writers; Lincoln seems to be very, very reluctant. Almost every big event of Lincoln's life seems to be forced upon him. Meanwhile, Lincoln is shown to take the responsibility but be very unwilling to do so. This is shown the most when Lincoln's lawyer partner gets drunk on New Years and pleads and blast Lincoln for not taking his rightful place in history that has been destined for him. Mary Todd's character also makes it a forgone conclusion that she will marry the man who will be president and then forces Lincoln and pushes him in that direction. All the while, Lincoln is ho-humming along and becomes very sullen and forlorn in the second half of the movie. Again, Massey does a good job with Lincoln and probably portrays the voice with a higher pitch that Lincoln is known to have, but movies tend not to play on. Ruth Gordon's portrayal of Mary Todd is played in such a way that is pretty annoying. I'm not sure if that's what the director was going for, but we see the onset of Mary's historically known craziness. She is not a likable character in this movie in the least. Gene Lockhart does a great job with Stephen Douglas for as little as he's in the movie. However, his character seems to fear Lincoln pretty much in here and seems to idealize him early in the movie. He comes right out and says it to Lincoln later in the movie too.

I don't want to bad mouth the movie too much because this is probably the better Lincoln bio-pics that focus not on the Civil War era. It is an entertaining movie and there is a great speech/debate scene that is very moving. It just seems that as you get towards the end of the movie, Lincoln would rather get shot in the head than be president. What?...too soon?