Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

In director John Ford's first collaboration with actor Henry Fonda:

  • the early scene of young and ambitious Abraham Lincoln (Henry Fonda) in Illinois in 1832 reading aloud passages at the foot of a tree, from Blackstone's mid-18th century published book: Blackstone's Commentaries, when young and pretty Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore) happened to appear; in the bucolic setting (next to a river), a budding romance began to develop between Lincoln and Ann as they strolled along; he told her: "You gotta have education these days to get anywhere. I never went to school as much as a year in my whole life"; she reminded him: "Oh, but you've educated yourself. You've read poetry and Shakespeare and - and now law"; he interrupted her next thought by mentioning her beauty: "You're mighty pretty, Ann"; she responded: "Some folks I know don't like red hair"; he admitted openly: "I do...I love red hair"
  • after she walked off, he tossed a stone into the river behind him; the ripples in the water dissolved into a wintry scene of the ice-covered river with floating floes - to emphasize the passage of time; he was at the snowy grave of his beloved Ann Rutledge who had since died, and placing flowers next to her tombstone where they had once talked; he was making a crucial decision about what career to follow with his life - and due to Ann's earlier urgings, he chose to pursue a law profession, delivered in a soliloquy: "Ice is breakin' up. It's comin' in to spring. Well, Ann, I'm still up a tree. Just can't seem to make up my mind what to do. Maybe I ought to go into the law, take my chances. I admit, I got kinda a taste for somethin' different than this in my mouth. Still, I don't know. I'd feel such a fool settin' myself up as a-knowin' so much. Course, I know what you'd say. I've been hearin' it every day, over and over again: 'Go on, Abe. Make somethin' of yourself. You got friends. Show 'em what you got in ya'. Oh, yes, I know what you'd say. But I don't know. Ann, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll let this stick decide. If it falls back toward me, then I stay here, as I always have. If it falls forward towards you, then it's - well, it's the law. Here goes, Ann. Well, Ann, you win. It's the law"
At Snowy Gravesite of Beloved Ann Rutledge
- Deciding On a Law Career
  • with country-store, homespun logic, the scene of Lincoln's dissuading of a lynch mob at Sangamon County jail door from killing two Clay boys, Matt and Adam (Richard Cromwell, Eddie Quillan) who were accused of murdering drunken deputy Scrub White (Fred Kohler, Jr.) by stabbing him in the back ("...We seem to lose our heads in times like this. We do things together that we'd be mighty ashamed to do by ourselves...")
  • the scene of Lincoln's playing of "Dixie" on a mouth harp
  • Lincoln's empathetic comparison of his Kentucky upbringing with the Clay family homesteaders - before reading a letter from the jailed boys
  • the courtroom scene when defense lawyer Lincoln confronted fellow lawman and alleged eyewitness John Palmer Cass (Ward Bond) - and brought a laugh from the audience: ("I'll just call you Jack Ass") - and tricked him - with page 12 of the Farmer's Almanac with an account of the moon setting 40 minutes before the killing took place: ("So, ya see, it couldn't-a been moon bright, could it? You lied, didn't ya Cass? And you weren't tryin' to save these boys' necks, were you? You were trying to save your own, weren't ya?... And these two boys, Matt and Adam - they each knew that he didn't do it. Therefore, each thought the other did it"); Lincoln was able to get Cass to confess to the cold-blooded crime himself; Cass divulged that he had drunkenly killed White with Matt's dropped knife (when he came upon the scene and saw that White was still alive): "I didn't mean to kill him!"
  • the final celebrated scene when stove-pipe hatted Lincoln was asked by Efe Turner (Eddie Collins): "Ain't you goin' back, Abe?"; he responded: "No, I think I might go on a piece. Maybe to the top of that hill" - and walked off toward the hill in a gathering wind and rainstorm with lightning (causing him to hold onto his hat) - to the soundtrack's playing of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"
  • the film's conclusion (with a heavenly chorus now singing the tune) - and a dissolve into a sideview shot of his statue in the Lincoln Memorial

Young Abe With Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore)

Ripples in Water

Quelling a Lynch Mob at Jail Door

Courtroom Scene - Tricking John Cass and Forcing a Confession

Lincoln's Walk To the Top of a Hill

Dissolve Into Lincoln Memorial


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