Nominated for two Academy Awards, for Actor Raymond Massey in the title role and for James Wong Howe’s b/w cinematography, Abe Linclon in Lincoln was the second film within one year (the first was John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln in 1939) to deal with that president.
Canadian-born, British-trained Raymond Massey plays Young Abe who comes out of the backwoods and falls in love with Ann Rutledge (Mary Howard). The ambitious Mary Todd (played by the young Ruth Gordon in one of her first screen roles) is determined to get Abe for herself.
Massey’s performance conveys the wit and charisma of Lincoln, but the film suffers from gross historical inaccuracies and the melodramatic approach of director John Cromwell. In the supporting role, Gene Lockhart gives a broad interpretation as Stephen A. Douglas, and critics at the time also faulted Ruth Gordon for her aggressive interpretation of the doom-haunted Mrs. Lincoln.
Grover Jones’s screenplay is based on Robert E. Sherwood’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-wining play, in which Raymond Massey originated the role. Lincoln became a signature role for Massey, who played Lincoln again in the anthology Western, How the West Was Won. Endowed with an impressive voice and strong presence, Massey played effectively other historical roles, such as abolitionist John Brown in the 1940 Errol Flynn’s vehicle, “Santa Fe Trail,” and “Seven Angry Men.” Massey brought his historical role full circle, when he was cast as the father of Lincoln’s assassin, Junius Brutus Booth, in “Prince of Players.”
As far as movies about Lincoln go, John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln,” with a terrific Henry Fonda in the lead, is a better picture than “Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” though the Academy neglected to nominate Fonda, instead giving a nod to Lamar Trotti for Original Story.
Raymond Massey gave his last appearance as Abraham Lincoln in 1963 in How the West Was Won, playing a role that he had previously played on all three mediums: stage (Abe Lincoln in Illinois), screen (Abe Lincoln in Illinois) and TV (The Day Lincoln Was Shot).
Oscar Nominations: 2
Actor: Raymond Massey
Camera (black-white): James Wong Howe
The winner of the Best Actor was James Stewart for “The Philadelphia Story.” George Barnes won the Cinematography Oscar for “Rebecca.”