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Abe Lincoln in Illinois (film)

Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Cromwell
Produced by Max Gordon
Written by Robert E. Sherwood (play)
Grover Jones (adaptation)
Robert E. Sherwood (screenplay)
Starring Raymond Massey
Gene Lockhart
Ruth Gordon
Mary Howard
Minor Watson
Alan Baxter
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by George Hively
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • April 19, 1940 (1940-04-19)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,004,000[2]
Box office $666,000[2]

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.[3]

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).


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Reception 3
  • Adaptations to other media 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Abe Lincoln leaves home for the first time, having been hired along with two of his friends by Denton Offut to take a load of pigs by water to New Orleans. When the boat overturns at the settlement of New Salem, Abe first sees and loses his heart to Ann Rutledge, the beautiful daughter of the local tavern keeper. Thus, 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. When his rival for Ann's affections leaves to better himself, Ann waits for him for several years before admitting he has proved faithless. Abe seizes the opportunity to express his love for her; she is unsure of her feelings for him and asks for a little time. Alas, she dies soon after of "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 visits her sister Elizabeth Edwards and her wealthy, influential husband Ninian, a party is held in her honor. All the eligible bachelors show up, including Abe's fiercest political rival, Stephen Douglas. 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 none of the favorites is acceptable to all. The party leaders compromise on "dark horse" Abe Lincoln. He engages in a series of debates with Stephen Douglas, the opposing candidate. One of the main issues 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.



The film recorded a loss of $740,000, making it one of the biggest financial disasters in RKO's history.[2]

Adaptations to other media

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.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994, p. 58
  3. ^

External links

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