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William A. Wellman
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Sharecropper's son Marvin tries to help his community overcome poverty and ignorance. While working in the general store he learns that the owner has been cheating his tenants. He is in love with owner's daughter, Madge, but sides with the tenants in his threat to expose the planters and their cheating. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Don't drink, don't smoke... you'll be a preacher yet, won't you Marvin, or something different...? But you'll have to get loose from them.
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Foreword In many parts of the South today, there exists an endless dispute between the rich land-owners, known as planters and the poor cotton pickers, known as tenants or 'peckerwoods'. The planters supply the tennants with the simple requirements of every day life and in return the tennants work the land year in and year out. A hundred volumes could be written on the rights and wrongs of both parties, but it is not the object of the producers of 'The Cabin in the Cotton' to take sides. We are only concerned with an effort to picturize these conditions. See more »
The workingman's studio, better known as Warner Brothers, did most of its social commentary films with an urban setting. Which in itself makes The Cabin In The Cotton a very unique product to come out of this studio. It's not a bad film, could have been better in delivering its message with a lighter hand. But what the Brothers Warner did was go back on an old standby.
Watching The Cabin In The Cotton this morning put me in mind of a much better film in which Preston Sturges satirized the making of films like these. If you remember in Sullivan's Travels, director John L. Sullivan played by Joel McCrea wants to make films like these, the epic he wants to do is entitled Oh Brother Where Art Thou. But in order to sell it he's advised to make sure it has 'a little sex'.
Which brings me to why The Cabin In The Cotton is remembered today at all. It's because of what Bette Davis brings to the film, a little sex. This film was a big milestone in her career as she plays the hedonistic daughter of that old southern planter Berton Churchill who keeps his sharecroppers, black and white, in virtual peonage.
The lead Richard Barthelmess plays a bright young sharecropper's son and Churchill takes an interest in him, sending him to school to be educated because he has no son to help run the old plantation. What he does have is one sexpot of a daughter to keep Barthelmess on the side of the rich and privileged instead of finding true love with one of his own class in Dorothy Jordan.
Churchill has been systematically exploiting the sharecroppers with high interest and cheating them on price. They in turn have been stealing cotton and selling bits of it on the black market. Henry B. Walthall and Russell Simpson have been leading the quiet peasant's revolt which threatens to get open and nasty. I'd have to say that the ending of the film has a forced and obvious conclusion both romantically and socially, but you'll have to see it for yourselves to find out.
The Cabin In The Cotton is a dated, but historically valid film about conditions in the old Confederacy before the New Deal. But the sex that Bette Davis brings to her role is timeless.
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