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John and Mary sims are city-dwellers hit hard by the financial fist of The Depression. Driven by bravery (and sheer desperation) they flee to the country and, with the help of other workers, set up a farming community - a socialist mini-society based upon the teachings of Edward Gallafent. The newborn community suffers many hardships - drought, vicious raccoons and the long arm of the law - but ultimately pull together to reach a bread-based Utopia. Written by
American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films 1931-1940 credits C.E. Anderson in the role of "blacksmith"; actually he plays the butcher who trades John a scrawny chicken for his ukulele. See more »
Don't worry Mary. I know things are hard now but we'll make it in the end.
But how, John? Who's going to save us?
Not who, Mary, what. The bread will save us, the bread.
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Too bad the movie's laudable message gets dragged down by bad acting. That's been the traditional rap on this Depression era film, and critics are correct. Tom Keene's Golly, Gee Whiz! performance seems tailor made for Andy Hardy's older brother, but not for the embattled head of a farm co-operative. No doubt, director Vidor wanted a fresh faced non- celebrity for the inspirational role of Tom, but he should have kept auditioning before settling on Keene-- and what was Vidor seeing when he viewed the daily rushes which he likely did. The part requires an actor of Henry Fonda's calibre to bring off the various mood changes. Unfortunately Keene treats those scenes like a sulking teenager. Then too, the normally competent Addison Richards overplays the hostile stranger to a fault, which doesn't help. Fortunately, the winsome and polished Karen Morley has a featured part that anchors the rest of the cast.
Nonetheless, I can see why Vidor was driven to make the film. Depression era audiences needed reminding that they could re-establish their livelihoods by combining skills instead of waiting for the financial markets to get their act together. After all, our daily bread ultimately depends not on the money changers or financial firms, but on cooperative labor working to keep production going for mutual benefit. Here, ordinary people are shown as having the necessary skills of farming, carpentry, care-giving, and the other know-how's necessary to sustaining a community. It's these folks and these skills that we can't do without when the economic chips are down.
Note especially how the cooperative farm has no need for money in order to exchange goods and services. Then, no less than now, people are led to believe that no economy can function without money in some form, no doubt a comforting thought to the private bankers of the world. The movie however, shows that cooperation, not competition or money, is the ultimate background from which other economic forms develop.The fact that the cooperative farm had to reach into the money economy in order to survive only shows that their cooperative is still too small, and not that the idea won't work on a larger scale. I expect Vidor's effort was not favorably reviewed on Wall Street.
It doesn't help the movie's down-to-earth message to sentimentalize plain folk as the script too often does. There's too much of the "happy peasant" atmosphere at times to be believable. (Note also how even the cheerless Addison Richard's criminal past is reformed by productive labor before he makes his sacrifice.) Nonetheless, I'd like to know where Vidor got his very ordinary looking people who don't even look like standard film "extras'-- a real boost to the movie's theme. Note too, how quickly the 4th of July rhetoric about "immortal democracy" is dismissed by the refugees as being the cause of their problems and not the solution. That's certainly an unexpected point to ponder. The fact, however, that they turn decision-making over to a single individual may be a naive reflection of developments in European fascism at a time when Germany and Italy were turning to strongmen as their solution.
All in all, this is one of the more thought-provoking movies to emerge out of that turbulent period. Then too, its message is no less important now than it was then. For all that apparently aimless rolling in the mud at movie's end is more than just an expression of unbounded joy. It's a near-religious communion with the rich moist earth from which we spring and on whose bounty we still depend. For the basic fact is that mother earth and those who work it continue to feed, shelter, and clothe the rest of us, no matter how far the movies, TV and super-slick celebrities may remove us from that homely truth. Thanks, King Vidor, for the celebration and the much needed reminder.
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