Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) >>

Print Resources

Alonso, Harriet Hyman. Robert Sherwood: A Playwright in Peace and War. Boston: U of Massachusetts P, 2007.
This biography traces the life of Robert Sherwood, both professionally and personally. Using his plays, films, letters, and diaries, Hyman constructs a picture of Sherwood. She considers his work throughout his life, working as a propagandist during the Second World War and a speech writer for Roosevelt, and juxtaposes it with his true life convictions of antiwar sentiment developed through his career as a soldier. Hyman brings together film studies and biography to examine Sherwood as a man and as a writer.
Atkinson, Brooks. "Raymond Massey Appearing in Robert E. Sherwood's ‘Abe Lincoln in Illinois.'" New York Times 17 October 1938: 12.
A review for the Broadway debut of the play version of Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Atkinson cannot give higher praise to the play, exalting both Sherwood's presentation of the Lincoln story in all ways and Massey's excellent performance on stage. The only negative thing the reviewer can find to say about the play is that the covered wagon was not made as well as it could have been in one scene. He says he cannot find the proper adjectives to describe how he feels about the play, none of the usual ones would be adequate. Atkinson thinks the play is a perfect note for the time and predicts, correctly, that it will be a critical and popular success.
Bolam, Sarah, and Thomas J. Bolam. The Presidents on Film. Jefferson: MacFarland, 2007.
This book is a filmography of 407 films that feature an American President as a character. Each film mentioned contains a plot summary and the credits for the film, as well as a discussion of the President that is featured. The book goes in chronological order of Presidents from George Washington on through George W. Bush, considering each of the films that feature that president with a short description of their administration and commentary on the overall nature and message of the films. The authors make comments based on the historical accuracy of the films, mentioning both when the films make mistakes and when they do a particularly good job getting it right. Lincoln has the most appearances in films, with 123, while Tyler, Buchanan, and Harding each appear in zero films. A good resource for information on Presidents in film.
Chadwick, Bruce. The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film. New York: Knopf, 2001.
Chadwick examines how mass media and popular culture, such as novels, newspapers and magazines, and art, have influenced the movies. He explains how myths and misrepresentations of the Civil War have made it into films about the Civil War, creating a highly untruthful idea about the war in the American conscious. He talks about films such as Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. He also considers portrayals of people like Abraham Lincoln, and the stereotypes of Southern Belles and brave Northern Soldiers. Importantly, he considers how these untruths spewed in many films have created a racist idea of the Civil War. Chadwick discusses each film with a synopsis of the plot and its history in media.
Custen, George F. Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1992.
Custen's Bio/Pics examines how the movies have portrayed real figures. It examines how different restrictions, such as censorship and libel laws, and the limitations of casting in portraying real people. It discusses the art and production, as well as logistics of distribution. It also traces the history of the biographical films, as well as their rise to prominence after World War II. The book contains charts, notes, and references for each of the films, totaling more than three hundred. Also, it contains a bit of information on how the biographical film works into television. A helpful resource when considering a biographical film, especially one about an older historical character.
Irelan, Scott R. "The Shine of Egalitarian Morality: Staging a Connective Aesthetic in Robert Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois." Journal of American Drama and Theatre 20.1 (2008): 75-88.
Irelan discusses the morality involved in Sherwood's play in relation to the public art that a stage production is. He considers how Lincoln is represented in the play and how that representation relates overall to how he is represented in art. Irelan stresses the importance of the play and plays in general in creating and perpetuating a morality that is shared throughout our culture and that benefits our society. This is a thoughtful article on the play and its purpose, beyond entertainment, in our culture.
Kinnard, Roy. The Blue and the Gray on the Silver Screen: More Than Eighty Years of Civil War Movies. Secaucus: Carol Pub. Group, 1996.
Kinnard lists almost 100 films relating to the Civil War. Included in each entry are full cast lists, reviews, and credits. It is a vast and varied compilation, dealing with films such as Abe Lincoln in Illinois, about the young life of President Lincoln, and also with films such as Buster Keaton's The General. There are over two hundred photos to help put the listings in context, and the films cover the entire 20th century. Useful to get an idea of different ways in which American's deadliest war is portrayed in films, from the people who were important figures and made great sacrifices, to finding the humor in a terrible situation.
"'Lincoln in Illinois' Cheered at Capitol." New York Times 4 October 1938: 20.
This article describes the excitement and pleasure to which Abe Lincoln in Illinois was received by audience in Washington, DC, prior to its New York debut. It praises the play and Massey's performance but mostly describes the positive feedback from the crowd and the many curtain calls which took place among the political elite viewing the play.
Marks, Peter. "Stages: A New Act in Abraham Lincoln's Dramatic Life." Washington Post 8 February 2008: M03.
This article examines the well known works of Lincoln on stage and screen, such as Young Mr. Lincoln and Abe Lincoln in Illinois through the eye of a new musical being put on in Washington, DC, about the romantic life of Lincoln and Mary Todd. Although it does not offer much new insight on Abe Lincoln in Illinois, it gives an interesting overview of Lincoln on stage and how modern audiences want to see him in comparison to those of the early 20th century.
McGill, William J. "Railsplitter on the Boards: The Lincoln of Drama." Lincoln Herald 87.1 (1985): 4-12.
This article examines five historical dramas about Abraham Lincoln, beginning with John Drinkwater's 1919 "Abraham Lincoln," through Robert E. Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois, to Mark Van Doren's The Last Days of Lincoln, from 1959. It also includes Prologue to Glory, and The Rivalry. McGill considers how Lincoln was presented in each of these plays and examines the image that is created from these plays. The collective image that Lincoln has taken in the minds of Americans is very positive, and McGill explains why and how these films reflect that image.
Neely, Mark. "The Young Lincoln: Two Films." Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. Ed. Mark C. Carnes. New York: Macmillan, 1996.
This article in a larger compilation is about the films Young Mr. Lincoln and Abe Lincoln in Illinois, considered quintessential films about Lincoln. It discusses the reality of the films, as well as the production value and historical accuracy. The book as a whole considers much the same themes and issues in other films integral to historical American film culture. Each article/chapter is written by scholars of the subjects and is different and interesting. The articles themselves are short, but informative, and cover a wide range of different, important topics.
Peterson, Merrill D. Lincoln in American Memory. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
Five main themes run through Peterson's book: Lincoln as Savior of the Union, Great Emancipator, Man of the People, the First American, and the Self-Made Man. [Note: this book was not available when this project was created and should be consulted when second generation work is done.]
Reinhart, Mark S. Abraham Lincoln on Screen: A Filmography of Dramas and Documentaries, including Television, 1903-1998. Jefferson: McFarland, 1999.
Reinhart lists over two hundred films and television shows that have featured Lincoln over the years. He covers a great variety of productions, from classics such as Abraham Lincoln through Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. He even covers obscure productions and educational films. Reinhart makes comments and criticisms on every production, praising the older films, and for the most part getting harsher as the films become more modern. Reinhart questions the accuracy of Abe Lincoln in Illinois and criticizes Massey's performance of the sixteenth President. He prefers D.W. Griffith's Abraham Lincoln, one of only two films to cover Lincoln's entire lifespan. He also considers television shows and made for TV movies, such as Gore Vidal's Lincoln. Reinhart is publishing an updated edition in 2009.
Richards, David. "Review/Theater: Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Lincoln as a Metaphor for a Big Job Ahead, in 1939 and Today." New York Time 30 Nov 1993.
A review of the stage production of Abe Lincoln in Illinois revived in 1993 and directed by Gerald Guitierrez. Starring Sam Waterston and Lisbeth Mackey, the play was put on at Lincoln Center and was an epic production. Richards considers some of Sherwood's original motives for writing the play and how those values come through and translate to a more modern audience. It also compares the play to the original. This article looks at the play from a modern perspective, considering how it can serve to teach a lesson in that respect.
Rickey, Carrie. "How Hollywood Says Hail to the Chiefs." Philadelphia Inquirer 2 November 2008: H01.
This article considers how different American Presidents are considered in film. It discusses both fictional Presidents, like Harrison Ford in Air Force One, as well as real Presidents portayed on film, such as Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and compares them. It considers what Americans want to see in a President and how real Presidents were represented in film portrays that. This article is interesting because it uses poll results to make conclusions about the films, which helps gage national opinion of Lincoln in films; he is the most popular President in films of all time.
Sherwood, Robert E. Abe Lincoln in Illinois: A Play in Twelve Scenes. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1939.
The Pulitzer Prize winning play on which the film of the same title was based. The play, debuting in 1938, received critical acclaim and is considered an American classic. It is "a play in twelve scenes," tracing Lincoln from a backwoodsman in Illinois through to his election as President on the eve of the Civil War. The play is an indispensable reference for anyone assessing the film.
Smyth, J. E. "'Young Mr. Lincoln:' Between Myth and History in 1939." Rethinking History 7.2 (2003): 193-214.
Smyth discusses how John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln was revolutionary in that it went past telling the story of a well known character, assumed the audience knew the basic history, and went deeper to tell a new story. The article examines how earlier Lincoln movies such as Lincoln in the White House and Abe Lincoln in Illinois set up the public to understand the history of Lincoln and used that to tell a new and different story of Lincoln, something more unexpected. It considers that full repertoire of Lincoln films and compares Young Mr. Lincoln to them, helping to explain the overall myth of Lincoln.
Takayoshi, Ichiro. "Globalizing the Civil War: Robert Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois and the U.S. Foreign Policy, 1938-1941." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, 2 February 2009.
This essay considers whether Sherwood's play Abe Lincoln in Illinois was meant to be an allegory of the situation of the US in relation to the Second World War going on at the time. The author argues that Sherwood was making comparisons between the Civil War and World War II, comparing the necessity of ending slavery in the play to the necessity of ending the axis powers overseas. It considers the members of the cabinet who saw the stage play, as well as the incidence of FDR having a private screening of the film at the White House shortly before the US entered the War. Although the article seems somewhat far fetched in showing a correlation between the movie and the actual US foreign policy, it gives the reader reason to consider Sherwood's popularity at the time and to understand, if Sherwood was pro-war, why he chose to downplay certain things about Lincoln and bring to the forefront the idealist purveyor of liberty as he does.

See Also

Brown, John Mason. The Ordeal of a Playwright: Robert E. Sherwood and the Challenge of War. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Brown, John Mason. The Worlds of Robert E. Sherwood: Mirror to His Times, 1896-1939. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

Campbell, Oscar James. "Robert Sherwood and His Times." College English 4.5 (1943): 275-80.

Dixon, Wheeler W. American Cinema of the 1940s: Themes and Variations . New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2006.

Higham, Charles. Hollywood in the Forties. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1968.

Karsten, Eileen. From Real Life to Reel Life: A Filmography of Biographical Films. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1993.

Meserve, Walter J. Robert E. Sherwood: Reluctant Moralist. New York: Pegasus, 1970.

Rollins, Peter C., and John E. O'Connor, eds. Hollywood's White House: The American Presidency in Film and History. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2003.

Rollins, Peter C., ed. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past. New York: Columbia UP, 2003.

Smyth, J. E. "The Lives and Death of Abraham Lincoln, 1930-1941." Reconstructing American Historical Cinema. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 2006.

Snee, Brian J. "Shooting Lincoln: Rhetorical Dimensions in Historical Films." Diss. Pennsylvania State U, 2000.

Video/Audio Resources

Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Trailer for the film.
Abraham Lincoln: Film and TV Star
Time magazine released this video composition on their website to honor Lincoln's bicentennial. It features clips of Lincoln in the movies and on television in some of his most memorable "roles," from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure to Abe Lincoln in Illinois. It also considers the impact that Lincoln in film has had on American culture and it's enduring legacy. It is informative and entertaining to watch.
Lincoln vs Douglas debate
Video clip on this section of the film.
Sam Waterston as Abraham Lincoln
Video clip from Gore Vidal's Lincoln movie.

Online Resources

Bayles, Martha. "Films About Lincoln." Arts Journal Webblog.
This web site is a blog about the films of Lincoln. It takes a more entertainment perspective, considering the films about Lincoln in relation to each other. The blog considers some of the most famous films on Lincoln and gives a synopsis and analysis of each. Although it is not as scholarly as some other resources, it is well written and a good reference for the basic Lincoln films.
Bodeen, DeWitt. "John Cromwell." Film Reference.
Facts and analysis of Cromwell's career.
Fellerath, David. "Two Lincoln Movies Show Different Sides." 4 Feb 2009.
This article looks at Abe Lincoln in Illinois in comparison to Young Mr. Lincoln. It considers the values and the misrepresentations in both films and considers which performance is a more true-to-life portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, Massey's or Fonda's. It is a look at the merits of the snippet in the life of Lincoln that is portrayed in Young Mr. Lincoln, versus a spanning of his whole life, as in Abe Lincoln in Illinois. The article is interesting and gives a sense of why these two films were so popular right around the same time, because of the debates over intervention in Europe and isolationism, as well as the fight for a Republican resurgence in politics. It is a brief and interesting comparison of the two films.
Robert Sherwood
This website gives a comprehensive checklist of all of Sherwood's works, including films and plays, as well as articles that he wrote for publications. It also gives a brief description of Sherwood and a short biography of his career.