Young Matt Masters, an Ozark Mountains moonshiner, hates the father he has never seen, who apparently deserted Matt's mother and left her to die. His obsession contributes to the hatred ... See full summary »
Young Matt Masters, an Ozark Mountains moonshiner, hates the father he has never seen, who apparently deserted Matt's mother and left her to die. His obsession contributes to the hatred rampant in the mountains. However, the arrival of a stranger, Daniel Howitt, begins to positively affect the mountain people, who learn to shed their hatred under his gentle influence. Still, Matt does not quite trust Howitt..... Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS was made into a silent film in 1919. Harold Bell Wright, the author of the story, was a popular novelist of the day, and a number of his stories were turned into films. He usually concentrated on stories regarding people who lived in mountainous regions (one hesitates to call them hillbillies as they are usually shown to be non-stereotypes). As was mentioned in another of the comments here, Wright also wrote the story that was the basis for the Henry Fonda / Fred MacMurray film THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE.
John Wayne is not the central figure of this film, although considered the star nowadays. In reality this film should be considered one of the best in the career of Harry Carey Sr. A leading movie cowboy actor in the silent period and early sound years, Carey had slowly moved into character parts after 1933. Possibly his best recalled non-western role is the Vice President of the United States in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. As a Western star, he proved to be Wayne's own model of the perfect western film actor. In fact, in the shooting of John Ford's THE SEARCHERS, Wayne purposely honored Carey by copying a mannerism he had (holding his arm with his hand in a particular position) in Wayne's last visible moment in that film.
In the movie Wayne is a member of a family centered around James Barton and Beulah Bondi (Wayne's blood aunt), and his cousin Marc Lawrence. Bondi has never forgiven Wayne's father for abandoning the family, and indirectly causing the death of her sister. She has instilled in Wayne a hatred of the father. At the same time, the death of the sister is tied to the other tragedy of the family - that Lawrence is a mute. He has been unable to speak since he survived the fire that killed his aunt (Wayne' mother). The only one who occasionally stands up against Bondi's vicious hatred is Barton, but he admits in his best scene in the film that he really lacks the nerve to openly condemn her behavior.
This is a great film for character actors. Besides Barton, Bondi, and Lawrence, please take note of Marjorie Main in one of her most prescient performances. She is blind, and she requires expensive surgery to have a chance for the restoration of her sight. At a critical moment Carey will lend her the money for that surgery. When her eyesight is restored everyone in the community rejoices, until Main recognizes somebody in the crowd she did not expect to ever see again. Her comment when she reveals this person's identity, and realizes the tragedy she may have unwittingly caused, is devastating in it's simplicity and ironic truth.
Carey is a newly arrived rancher in the area, who (as witness his assistance to Main) gets involved trying to do good for his neighbors. And all usually benefit. Yet he too has his secrets, and they nearly rip him and several others apart.
THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS is a movie about redemption and forgiveness, and it's cast shows the difficulties faced by common people when presented with these seemingly simple acts of behavior. All of the stars of the movie gave first rate performances in it, and for Wayne it was the first big follow-up to his overnight success in STAGECOACH. But the best performance remains Carey's, who in the end has to commit an act of violence in order to try to save his last chance for acceptance from those who count the most.
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