Rogers plays a small town banker in the 1890s whose chief rival is the deacon (Middleton) with whom he has traded horse flesh. Taylor is a bank teller who places a winning $4,500 bet on a ... See full summary »
Rogers plays a small town banker in the 1890s whose chief rival is the deacon (Middleton) with whom he has traded horse flesh. Taylor is a bank teller who places a winning $4,500 bet on a 10-1 harness racing horse, making him Rogers' bank partner. Written by
"David Harum" (no relation to Procol Harum) was a popular novel which had already been filmed as a silent in 1915. In upstate New York, during the Victorian era, banker Harum (Will Rogers in this version) and Deacon Perkins (Charles Middleton, excellent as always) have been bitter rivals for years, ever since the Deacon once sold Harum a blind horse. They continue to engage in the fine art of horse-trading, each determined to get the better of the other.
After their latest horse-trade, Perkins seems to be the winner: Harum has been lumbered with a "racehorse" that simply refuses to gallop at all. But then Harum accidentally discovers that the horse is a trotter, not a runner... and the horse will trot very rapidly, but only when sung to. Armed with this knowledge, Harum enters his horse in a trotting race (with himself in the seat) and wins easily, by singing to his horse all through the race. Oh, and there's the usual boring romantic subplot (typical for Will Rogers's movies at Fox), which also ends happily.
Will Rogers was an excellent horseman, but it would have been unrealistic (and possibly dangerous) to expect him to ride for speed: he was 55 years old when "David Harum" was released. The climactic scene of this movie features Rogers as the jockey of a winning racehorse. However, this is a trotting race, so Rogers isn't in the saddle ... instead, he's seated in a sulky cart behind the trotter. This enabled the film director James Cruze (sadly underrated) to film an extremely realistic climax. Rogers's racing scenes are filmed from the horse's position, with Rogers seated in a cart directly behind the camera, whilst stunt riders manoeuvre trotting horses behind him. The fakery is less noticeable than usual here, and it makes an exciting climax to the film.
For some reason, most of Will Rogers's films during his 20th Century-Fox period included a "yassuh!" role for a black actor playing a racial stereotype. Here, it's Stepin Fetchit, playing a stable groom named Sylvester. I can see why Stepin Fetchit is so embarrassing (or infuriating) for modern viewers. In real life, Will Rogers was supposedly a pillar of integrity and human decency, but (in this film, and in so many others) he doesn't seem to mind in the slightest while African-American actors such as Stepin Fetchit and Fred "Snowflake" Toone humiliate themselves playing subhuman stereotypes. I know that this sort of racial humour was considered "normal" in the 1930s, but there seems to be much more of it in Will Rogers's films than in those of most other actors of this period ... except of course for Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor.
I'll rate "David Harum" 4 out of 10. I would have made it 5/10, if the racial jokes weren't there. Director James Cruze deserves to be better known, but this isn't one of his best films.
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