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Monday, August 20, 2012

Tobacco Road (1941)

Set in rural Georgia during the Great Depression, a dirt poor tenant farmer (Charley Grapewin, WIZARD OF OZ) tries to hold on to his dying farm as the bank threatens to repossess it. Rather than being based on the Erskine Caldwell novel, the film is based on the hit Broadway play of Caldwell's novel. At the time the film was made, it was the longest running play in Broadway history (over 3,000 performance and an eight year run). The film differs considerably from both the novel and the play. For some reason, the director John Ford decided to play it for laughs and the film plays out like a skewered episode of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. Caldwell showed an insight and an empathy for his poor white trash characters, here screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and Ford give us outrageous cornpone hillbilly stereotypes and with the exception of Elizabeth Patterson who gives a touching performance as Grapewin's wife, the acting is broad and buffoonish. And whose idea was it to cast the lovely and elegant Gene Tierney as a barefoot, dirt covered hillbilly nymph? With Dana Andrews, Marjorie Rambeau as psalm singing Sister Bessie, William Tracy, Grant Mitchell and Ward Bond, married to a 12 year old in the book but the movie ups her age to 13.

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