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Shiftless Jeeter Lester and his family of hillbilly stereotypes live in a rural backwater where their ancestors were once wealthy planters. Their slapstick existence is threatened by a bank's plans to take over the land for more profitable farming; subplots involve the affairs and marriages of son Dude and daughter Ellie May. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Dirt poor, elderly Georgia farmer Jeeter Lester (Charley Grapewin) schemes to get some money so that he and his wife Ada (Elizabeth Patterson) can remain at their dilapidated frame house on Tobacco Road, in this Great Depression era story, part comedy, part drama.
As country hicks, most of the characters are rather too stereotyped to be realistic. The film's script is very talky, not surprising since the story originated as a stage play. The film's plot varies wildly from slapstick comedy to morose drama. And therein lies the main problem.
Rural poverty in the South during the 1930s was no laughing matter. It was an intensely painful and prolonged episode of human misery. I can understand how viewers in those days needed some comic relief, but not in a story about poverty. The hyper-antics of young Dude, the film's comic relief, are extremely annoying. Those scenes dilute the seriousness of the film's underlying theme. And the subplot wherein Dude and Sister Bessie go off together seems like plot filler.
Charley Grapewin gives a fine performance in the lead role. But Marjorie Rambeau as Sister Bessie, and William Tracy as Dude overact. Part of this overacting could have been the result of poor film direction.
The film's background music runs the gamut from frivolous and nondescript in the comedic scenes to old-time gospel songs like "Shall We Gather At The River" during more serious moments.
Given the era in which the film was made, "Tobacco Road" is okay, if you give it some slack. But the story would have been better without the slapstick comedy. In any event, it's a good movie to watch when you're depressed and think things can't get much worse.
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