History is as history does
Like most early dramatizations of American history, this film is clearly enamored of its subject. While it may be factually accurate in an elementary school sort of way, Abe Lincoln in Illinois can hardly be considered a critical look at the man. Granted, Lincoln may be one of the more difficult presidents to dig up dirt on, but such fawning over any figure gets old.
Actor Raymond Massey makes a compelling Lincoln, and despite the shortcomings in perspective, the film isn't half bad.
The film is frank about difficulties Lincoln had with his wife's ambitions for him, and the plans established leaders of the community had to manipulate him. Unfortunately, such promising plotlines are treated episodically, and fails to live up to more than a history lesson.
The best part of the film is perhaps the debate with Douglas, which appears to be a kind of "greatest hits" from the seven debates the two had throughout Illinois in 1858. At about three hours each debate, such consolidation is necessary, but from a quick perusal of thse transcripts, some tact was exercised on the behalf of both parties, especially Douglas. Even in 1940, when racism was still in your face but the question of slavery long settled, words from a time when slavery was a subject of reasonable debate must have been a tad uncomfortable. Regardless, the fragments assembled for Lincoln's speech here are still stirring, and it is easily understood how these debates have long been famous.
As a film, I'm left wanting a better story. As history, I'm left wanting more detail and less idolizing. While Massey's performance lifts the film, it was barely keeping my interest.
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