Abraham Lincoln (1930)

93 mins | Drama | 25 August 1930

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HISTORY

Abraham Lincoln marked the first all-talking feature film, and penultimate directorial effort, from pioneering filmmaker D. W. Griffith, who had recently co-founded United Artists (UA) with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. According to an article in the 17 Aug 1929 Motion Picture News, Griffith had wanted to make a film about the sixteenth U.S. President for eight years and had finally convinced UA president Joseph Schenck to back the picture, whose production cost was an estimated $1 million. In the 24 Aug 1929 Motion Picture News, the project was described as the “biggest undertaking yet launched in talking pictures.” It was sometimes referred to as Lincoln in contemporary sources.
       Griffith’s preparations for the film involved reading approximately 153 books on the subject, as noted in a 31 Aug 1929 Hollywood Filmograph item. An article in the 23 Oct 1929 Var stated that some of the picture might be shot “in a wide film process of [Griffith’s] own” for which the director claimed to hold a number of patents, after having spent $150,000 on “wide experimentation.” The system reportedly called for film to be projected sideways.
       While a scheduled production start date of 20 Oct 1929 had previously been reported in Motion Picture News, filming was delayed, as indicated by the 27 Nov 1929 Var, which reported that Griffith was currently in New York City discussing the screen treatment with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Stephen Vincent Benét. The following month, Walter Huston’s casting was announced in the 16 Dec 1929 Film Daily. Shooting was further delayed, according to ...

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Abraham Lincoln marked the first all-talking feature film, and penultimate directorial effort, from pioneering filmmaker D. W. Griffith, who had recently co-founded United Artists (UA) with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. According to an article in the 17 Aug 1929 Motion Picture News, Griffith had wanted to make a film about the sixteenth U.S. President for eight years and had finally convinced UA president Joseph Schenck to back the picture, whose production cost was an estimated $1 million. In the 24 Aug 1929 Motion Picture News, the project was described as the “biggest undertaking yet launched in talking pictures.” It was sometimes referred to as Lincoln in contemporary sources.
       Griffith’s preparations for the film involved reading approximately 153 books on the subject, as noted in a 31 Aug 1929 Hollywood Filmograph item. An article in the 23 Oct 1929 Var stated that some of the picture might be shot “in a wide film process of [Griffith’s] own” for which the director claimed to hold a number of patents, after having spent $150,000 on “wide experimentation.” The system reportedly called for film to be projected sideways.
       While a scheduled production start date of 20 Oct 1929 had previously been reported in Motion Picture News, filming was delayed, as indicated by the 27 Nov 1929 Var, which reported that Griffith was currently in New York City discussing the screen treatment with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Stephen Vincent Benét. The following month, Walter Huston’s casting was announced in the 16 Dec 1929 Film Daily. Shooting was further delayed, according to the 29 Jan 1930 Var, when story and production advisor John W. Considine, Jr., deemed Benét’s dialogue “childish and trite” and called for rewrites. Griffith later claimed to have been satisfied with Benét’s work, in a 31 Aug 1930 Pittsburgh Press interview in which he recalled actor Walter Huston’s positive reaction to his first reading of the script, stating, “Thank God, I have lines that I’m not ashamed of.”
       On 15 Mar 1930, Hollywood Filmograph confirmed that production was underway at UA’s studio in Hollywood, CA. Griffith was slated to shoot a couple of days on the Universal studio lot in nearby Universal City, CA. The film called for a reported 130 actors in “bit roles,” according to the 5 Apr 1930 Hollywood Filmograph, for which they were paid between $25 and $500 per day. Casting director Fred Schuessler aided in finding actors who resembled Lincoln’s real-life cohorts.
       The completion of filming was announced on 12 Apr 1930 in Motion Picture News. The same day’s Hollywood Filmograph listed young actress Joyce Coad in the role of “Lucy Lee,” and also named Robert Haines as a cast member. Child actor Buster Slaven advertised the film as one of his credits in the 10 May 1930 Hollywood Filmograph, and the 14 Jun 1930 issue named Calmon Luboviski as orchestral director.
       A release date of 28 Sep 1930 was originally cited in the 31 May 1930 Motion Picture News. However, Abraham Lincoln ultimately premiered on 25 Aug 1930 at New York City’s Central Theatre, and was set for a general release on 29 Nov 1930, according to the 13 Sep 1930 Motion Picture News. Critical reception was generally positive, and in the 31 Aug 1930 Pittsburgh Press, Griffith was quoted as saying, “Abraham Lincoln, to my mind is the finest thing I have ever done.”
       An article in the 17 Sep 1930 Film Daily speculated that the Kansas Motion Picture Censor Board would require that the film be edited prior to release there. The offending scenes involved allusions to General U.S. Grant’s whiskey drinking; at the time, the Kansas Motion Picture Censor Board did not allow drinking scenes or mentions of whisky in theatrically released films.
       This film is extant. A print was fully restored by The Film Foundation, an organization founded in 1990 by director Martin Scorsese.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Brooklyn Daily Eagle [Brooklyn, NY]
26 Aug 1930
p. 21
Film Daily
16 Dec 1929
p. 1
Film Daily
20 Apr 1930
p. 5
Film Daily
29 Apr 1930
p. 5
Film Daily
5 Aug 1930
p. 2
Film Daily
31 Aug 1930
p. 10
Film Daily
17 Sep 1930
p. 3
Film Daily
5 Nov 1930
p. 1
Hollywood Filmograph
24 Aug 1929
p. 20
Hollywood Filmograph
31 Aug 1929
p. 34
Hollywood Filmograph
18 Jan 1930
p. 16
Hollywood Filmograph
15 Mar 1930
p. 19, 24
Hollywood Filmograph
5 Apr 1930
p. 20
Hollywood Filmograph
12 Apr 1930
p. 20, 22
Hollywood Filmograph
10 May 1930
p. 35
Hollywood Filmograph
14 Jun 1930
p. 16
Los Angeles Times
13 Apr 1930
p. 39
Los Angeles Times
12 Dec 1930
p. 13
Motion Picture News
17 Aug 1929
p. 657
Motion Picture News
7 Dec 1929
p. 19
Motion Picture News
12 Apr 1930
p. 9
Motion Picture News
31 May 1930
p. 165
Motion Picture News
16 Aug 1930
p. 19
Motion Picture News
23 Aug 1930
p. 54
Motion Picture News
6 Sep 1930
p. 39
Motion Picture News
13 Sep 1930
p. 85
New Movie Magazine
Mar 1930
p. 82
New York Times
26 Aug 1930
p. 24
Pittsburgh Press [Pittsburgh, PA]
31 Aug 1930
p. 16
Screenland
Jan 1931
p. 128
Variety
23 Oct 1929
p. 6
Variety
27 Nov 1929
p. 7
Variety
29 Jan 1930
p. 9, 11
Variety
27 Aug 1930
p. 21
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Joseph M. Schenck presents
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Assoc dial dir
PRODUCERS
Story and prod adv
WRITERS
Adpt, cont and dial
Cont and dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTORS
Executed by
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus arr
SOUND
Sd tech
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod staff
Prod staff
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Lincoln
Release Date:
25 August 1930
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 25 Aug 1930
Production Date:
mid Mar--mid Apr 1930
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Feature Productions, Inc.
1 September 1930
LP1585
Physical Properties:
Sound
Movietone
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
93
Length(in feet):
8,704
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

After a brief scene depicting the circumstances of Abraham Lincoln's birth in 1809, we find him at the age of twenty-two, "the ugliest and smartest man in New Salem, Illinois" and a clerk in D. Offut's general store. In the spring of 1834, Abe is courting Ann Rutledge when she dies abruptly of fever, causing him great suffering. After three years of fighting in the Indian war as Captain of Volunteers, Abe begins his law practice. At a ball given by former governor Edwards, the awkward lawyer meets Mary Todd and later, despite misgivings, marries her. His reputation as a debater wins him the Republican nomination to the presidency, and he is elected. John Brown and the Abolitionists capture the armory at Harper's Ferry, and John Wilkes Booth, a fanatic exhorter, cries out for volunteers to avenge the act; thus the Civil War is launched. Following hostilities at Fort Sumter and Bull Run, Washington itself is threatened. Lincoln makes a personal visit to a battlefield and comes upon a court-martial in progress; he asks the defendant to explain his actions, pardons him, and orders him back to his regiment. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation intensifies the struggle, and Lincoln is encouraged by Congress to end the war. Lincoln selects Grant to lead Union forces. While conferring with Stanton, the President receives word of Sheridan's defeat; he tells Stanton of his vision of a ship with white sails before each victory. ... The last of the Confederate forces under Lee are defeated, and the war is over. On the night of 14 Apr 1865, Lincoln speaks from a box at Ford's Theatre, and just after the play has begun, ...

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After a brief scene depicting the circumstances of Abraham Lincoln's birth in 1809, we find him at the age of twenty-two, "the ugliest and smartest man in New Salem, Illinois" and a clerk in D. Offut's general store. In the spring of 1834, Abe is courting Ann Rutledge when she dies abruptly of fever, causing him great suffering. After three years of fighting in the Indian war as Captain of Volunteers, Abe begins his law practice. At a ball given by former governor Edwards, the awkward lawyer meets Mary Todd and later, despite misgivings, marries her. His reputation as a debater wins him the Republican nomination to the presidency, and he is elected. John Brown and the Abolitionists capture the armory at Harper's Ferry, and John Wilkes Booth, a fanatic exhorter, cries out for volunteers to avenge the act; thus the Civil War is launched. Following hostilities at Fort Sumter and Bull Run, Washington itself is threatened. Lincoln makes a personal visit to a battlefield and comes upon a court-martial in progress; he asks the defendant to explain his actions, pardons him, and orders him back to his regiment. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation intensifies the struggle, and Lincoln is encouraged by Congress to end the war. Lincoln selects Grant to lead Union forces. While conferring with Stanton, the President receives word of Sheridan's defeat; he tells Stanton of his vision of a ship with white sails before each victory. ... The last of the Confederate forces under Lee are defeated, and the war is over. On the night of 14 Apr 1865, Lincoln speaks from a box at Ford's Theatre, and just after the play has begun, he is shot by John Wilkes Booth; the resulting uproar gives way to the sobbing of an unseen multitude, and a voice calls out: "Now he belongs to the ages."

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.