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Studio records note that RKO paid $120,000 for Robert E. Sherwood's story. Raymond Massey also portrayed the role of Abraham Lincoln in Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning stage production. According to studio publicity records, Sherwood wrote the play with Massey in mind. An article in Los Angeles Examiner adds that Sherwood refused to sell the rights of the play to Samuel Goldwyn because Goldwyn wanted to star Gary Cooper in the title role and Sherwood insisted that Massey play Lincoln if a film was to be made of his play. Studio records also note that actors Howard da Silva and Herbert Rudley reprised their stage roles for this film. Studio records add that Francis Ford was originally to have played the role of the stage driver. News items in Hollywood Reporter note that the studio wanted to borrow Andrea Leeds from Samuel Goldwyn, possibly for the role of "Anne Rutledge," but she was not in the released film. The picture was shot on location on the MacKenzie River outside Eugene, OR. A news item in Hollywood Reporter notes that Sherwood sued Twentieth-Century Fox for plagiarizing his play in Fox's 1939 film Young Mr. Lincoln. In an interview from a modern source, photographer James Wong Howe explained that in filming this picture, he lit faces by torchlight only, implemented by reflectors, which produced very soft shadows. Howe continued that he insisted upon bare sets.
This film received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Actor (Raymond Massey) and Best Cinematography (James Wong Howe). Television versions of Sherwood's play were presented in 1950 on ABC's Pulitzer Prize Playhouse starring Raymond Massey; in 1951 on CBS's Video Theater, also starring Massey; and in 1964 on NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame starring Jason Robards, Jr. The film was also included in Film Daily's ten best list for 1940. For more information on other films about Abraham Lincoln, see listing for Young Mr. Lincoln (below).