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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Tobacco Road as was written by Erskine Caldwell and dramatized on Broadway for 8 years was brought to the screen by 20th Century Fox in a considerably altered state. It was thought of probably by Darryl Zanuck as a great property for John Ford seeing what he did with The Grapes Of Wrath.
The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck is a great piece of social commentary, an immortal work whether in print or on the big or small screen. Ford kept the spirit of Steinbeck's work completely intact and got a well deserved Best Director Oscar. In this one because Caldwell's Jeeters are not quite as noble as the Joads of The Grapes Of Wrath, they're not prototype rural proletarians. The changes took a lot of the drama and commentary and left the film not too far above the Weaver Family films and Ma and Pa Kettle.
Charley Grapewin and Bessie Patterson are Mr.&Mrs. Jeeter Lester and Jeeter is a guy determined to get by doing as little as possible. The whole family has his spirit. He's married most of his children off. One of the daughters in serious trouble of being an old maid at 23 and that was Gene Tierney if you can believe that. Her character in the book and play has a cleft palate and you can understand why she's not married off. Here she's just gorgeous Gene Tierney and a crucial element is missing.
There's another daughter Pearl whom we never see, but who's married to the loutish Ward Bond. She keeps running off and Bond just doesn't get it. Here he's just rustic lout, I suspect that the 13 year old Pearl figures she can do a whole lot better. That one I'm sure the Code was breathing hot and heavy over 20th Century Fox.
There's another physically deformed character and that's Marjorie Rambeau who has in the book a nose like a pig's snout. Grapewin palms off his 16 year old son as a new husband for Rambeau to get his hands on the insurance money her old husband left her. William Tracy as the kid who's no prize figures she's experienced and eager even if she's a psalm singer which she is.
The rough house comedy that typifies many a Ford film is funny, but hardly in the spirit of what Caldwell was writing. In the end I have to say that the film is not good John Ford, though he's done worse.
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