Happy Birthday, Mr. President!
In honor of the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, we’ve revisited John Ford’s great portrait of the leader as a preheroic man, Young Mr. Lincoln, and picked this clip to mark the moment. The beauty of it, we think, is that it encapsulates Ford’s surprisingly complex portrayal. Lincoln’s nostalgic evocation of his childhood in this scene is in line with the near mythic image we have of him, with his log-cabin upbringing and education, an embodiment of pure, salt-of-the-earth Americana. But his casual comment about slavery subtly injects some reality into the myth, suggesting that the Great Emancipator wasn’t a simple candy-coated hero and had his share of flaws, and shortsightedness, which often gets covered up by history writers. This brief scene clearly isn’t aiming for straight factual accuracy, but in a way Young Mr. Lincoln is even stronger for creating something akin to an American fable. By illuminating a carefully drawn idea of Lincoln rather than attempting a by-the-numbers biopic, Ford manages to capture the man and his ideas, his strengths and his contradictions, in a way that’s more elegant and direct than other docudramas on the subject.