When director John Ford asked a young Henry Fonda to play Abraham Lincoln in the film Young Mr. Lincoln, Fonda protested that he could not possibly take on the role of such a major figure. Ford responded: “You are not playing the Great Emancipator. You are playing a young jackleg lawyer from Springfield.”
Director Catherine Hardwicke may have thought of Ford when she gave Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac their roles as teenage Mary and Joseph in the restrained and reverent The Nativity Story. This retelling of the classic Christmas story stands out as the best film of the year.
The Nativity Story covers the familiar: Mary’s unexpected pregnancy, Joseph’s frustrated response, the couple’s journey to Bethlehem, Herod’s anger, the Magi, sleeping shepherds and finally the birth in a cave. But in Hardwicke’s hands the familiar becomes fresh again.
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).