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USA 1941
Directed by
John Ford
84 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Tobacco Road

Somewhat of an anomaly in John Ford’s oeuvre this slapstick hillbilly comedy was light years away from his sombre heart-wrencher about rural poverty from the previous year, The Grapes of Wrath.

As written by Ford’s regular scriptwriter, Nunnally Johnson. who was adapting a hit stage play by Jack Kirkland itself based on a novel by Erskine Caldwell Tobacco Road is a merciless, albeit genial, caricature of the once genteel South now mired in poverty.

It tells the story of a tenant farming family: paterfamilias Jeeter Lester (Charley Grapewin),  his wife Edna (Elizabeth Patterson), Dude (William Tracy) and daughter, Ellie May (Gene Tierney) as they, well, do little really other than act like idiots (in the literal sense of the word). Jeeter is a shiftless fool, his son a half-wit, his wife docile and god knows why the completely improbable Gene Tierney was cast as the barefooted daughter as she no dialogue and her performance is limited to giving the eye to Ward Bond as her dumb-ass brother-in-law. Added to the mix Marjorie Rambeau plays a sexually-predatory hymn-singing evangelist Sister Bessie Rice and Dana Andrews appears briefly as the Lester’s charming landlord.

Caldwell’s novel and Kirkland’s play depicted the squalor and moral degeneration of the post-civil war South but apparently the Hays Office placed so many restrictions on Johnson that all that is left is a brief opening allusion to the glories “gone with the wind” and the bare bones of something once more substantial.  The opening  scene in which the family fights over a bag of turnips like they were Diana’s golden apples says everything that there needs to be said about a film whose hyperbole is at times quite amusing. It also looks good thanks to Arthur C. Miller’s often striking camerawork.

FYI:: Tierney and Andrews would be seen to much better effect in the 1944 film noir classic, Laura.




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