Honest Abe has proven a popular subject for filmmakers over the years
Was Abraham Lincoln our most cinematic president?
From his hardscrabble childhood on the frontier to his dramatic death due to an assassin’s bullet, Lincoln lived a life fraught with hardship, triumph and tragedy.
He shepherded the nation through its greatest crisis — the American Civil War, a period of unprecedented bloodshed and destruction — while preserving the Union, ending slavery and ushering in a new period of economic and political reforms.
On top of that, Honest Abe was a primarily self-taught scholar, a skilled politician and an accomplished orator and writer — the kind of charismatic public figure* who could hold a crowd in thrall.
No wonder he’s proven such a popular subject** for filmmakers over the years.
Steven Spielberg’s insightful historical epic “Lincoln,” which opens in theaters today, stars Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis as the our nation’s 16th president.
Strangely enough, it’s not the first film this year to feature the commander-in-chief in a starring role. In “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” released in theaters this summer, a younger, hunkier Abe (Benjamin Walker) wrecks vengeance on the bloodsuckers who murdered his mother.
In honor of “Lincoln,” here are five more movies that celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.
“Young Mr. Lincoln”(1939)
Henry Fonda is the very picture of decency and dignity as Abraham Lincoln, a young Illinois lawyer facing his greatest court case. Here, he defends two men accused of murder, mourns the death of his sweetheart, courts his future wife, and eyes a career in politics.
“Abe Lincoln in Illinois”(1940)
This time it’s Raymond Massey (“Arsenic and Old Lace”) sporting the familiar stovepipe hat. This Oscar-nominated film follows Lincoln from his days chopping wood in Kentucky to his election to the presidency in 1860.
“The Lincoln Conspiracy” (1977)
What if Lincoln’s assassin wasn’t captured and killed shortly after the president’s slaying? What if he escaped to Canada instead? That’s the premise behind this thriller, a favorite with conspiracy theorists.
“The Civil War” (1990)
Considered the definitive documentary about the Civil War, Ken Burn’s nine-episode miniseries traces that nation-shattering conflict from beginning to end — starting with the abolitionist movement and concluding with the beginning of Reconstruction.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough serves as narrator, while “Law & Order” actor Sam Waterston voices Abraham Lincoln. He previously played the president in the 1988 TV movie “Lincoln.”
“The Conspirator” (2010)
Directed by Robert Redford, this drama centers on Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the sole woman charged as a co-conspirator in the Abraham Lincoln assassination trial. Her only hope for salvation lies in her reluctant lawyer, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy).
*Sure, Lincoln, a tall, lanky man with dull, deep-set eyes, a sizable nose and a few prominently placed warts, was far from a matinee idol. But moviemakers tend to overlook that fact.
** According to the Internet Movie Database, Abraham Lincoln has appeared as a character in more than 300 films, television movies and TV shows. That figure, however, doesn’t include his seven video-game credits.
“Lincoln” image courtesy of MovieWeb.com.
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