Abe Lincoln in Illinois is a 1940 biographical film which tells the story of the life of Abraham Lincoln from his departure from Kentucky until his election as President of the United States.
The film stars Raymond Massey and Howard Da Silva, who revived their roles from the original Broadway production of Abe Lincoln in Illinois playing Abe Lincoln and Jack Armstrong respectively. Herbert Rudley, who had portrayed Seth Gale in the play, also repeated his role in the film version. This film was the screen acting debut of Ruth Gordon as Mary Todd Lincoln.
The movie was adapted by Grover Jones and Robert E. Sherwood from Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It was directed by John Cromwell.
The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Raymond Massey) and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (James Wong Howe).
Abe Lincoln (Raymond Massey) leaves home for the first time, having been hired along with two of his friends by Denton Offut (Harlan Briggs) to take a load of pigs by water to New Orleans. When the boat gets stuck at a dam at the settlement of New Salem, Abe sees and loses his heart to Ann Rutledge (Mary Howard), the beautiful daughter of the local tavern keeper. When Denton later offers him a job at the store he has decided to set up in New Salem, Abe readily accepts.
Abe discovers however that Ann already has a beau. Nonetheless, he settles in, making himself the most popular man around with his ready, good-natured humor, and taking lessons from schoolteacher Mentor Graham (Louis Jean Heydt). When his rival for Ann's affections leaves to better himself, Ann waits for him two years before receiving a letter from him in which he states he does not know when he will return. Abe seizes the opportunity to express his love for her; she is unsure of her feelings for him and asks for a little time. She soon dies from "brain fever", telling Abe on her deathbed that she could have loved him.
Abe is asked to run for the State Assembly. He reluctantly accepts and wins, but after his first term in Springfield, Illinois, he decides to study the law instead. When Mary Todd (Ruth Gordon) visits her sister Elizabeth Edwards (Dorothy Tree) and her wealthy, influential husband Ninian (Harvey Stephens), a party is held in her honor. All the eligible bachelors show up, including Abe's fiercest political rival, Stephen Douglas (Gene Lockhart). However, it is the homely, unpolished Abe who catches Mary's fancy, much to her sister's chagrin. Ambitious, Mary senses greatness in him and is determined to drive him to his rightful destiny, despite his lack of ambition. Abe does ask her to marry him, but changes his mind at the last minute, discomfited by her drive, and leaves town. After thinking things over, however, he asks for her hand again. She accepts. Years pass, and they have several children.
With a presidential election looming, Abe's party is so split that the favorites are unacceptable to all. The party leaders compromise on "dark horse" Abe Lincoln. He engages in a series of debates with Stephen Douglas, the opposing candidate. A main issue is slavery. In a stirring speech, Abe contends that "a house divided against itself cannot stand". He wins the election. As the film ends, Abe bids his friends goodbye and boards the train to go to Washington, DC.Raymond Massey as Abraham Lincoln
Gene Lockhart as Stephen Douglas
Ruth Gordon as Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Howard as Ann Rutledge
Minor Watson as Joshua Speed
Alan Baxter as Billy Herndon
Harvey Stephens as Ninian Edwards
Howard Da Silva as Jack Armstrong (as Howard da Silva)
Dorothy Tree as Elizabeth Edwards
Aldrich Bowker as Judge Bowling Green
Maurice Murphy as John McNeil
Louis Jean Heydt as Mentor Graham
Clem Bevans as Ben Mattling
Harlan Briggs as Denton Offut
Herbert Rudley as Seth Gale
Andy Clyde as Stage Driver
Roger Imhof as Mr. Crimmin
Edmund Elton as Mr. Rutledge
Leona Roberts as Mrs. Rutledge
Florence Roberts as Mrs. Bowling Green
George Rosener as Dr. Chandler
Trevor Bardette as John Hanks
Syd Saylor as John Johnston
Elisabeth Risdon as Sarah Lincoln
Charles Middleton as Tom Lincoln
Alec Craig as Trum Cogdall
John Cromwell as John Brown (uncredited)
Sonny Bupp as Willie Lincoln (uncredited)
Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Barrett (uncredited)
Harry Humphries as Daniel Webster (uncredited)
The film recorded a loss of $740,000, making it one of the biggest financial disasters in RKO's history.
Abe Lincoln in Illinois was dramatized as an hour-long radio play on the April 22, 1940, broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, again starring Raymond Massey as Lincoln. It was also adapted to the February 8, 1948, broadcast of the Ford Theatre.