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The back side of the same coin whose front is The Grapes of Wrath. It's a Depression piece about a family of Georgia dirt farmers who are about to be driven from their home. Here John Ford stays much in his comedy mode, so most of his detractors will certainly want to stay clear of it. And even I admit that at times it can be obnoxious. Dude Lester, the youngest of the 16 (or 17) children Jeeter and Ada Lester had, and one of only two who still live on the farm, is particularly hard to bear. One wonders whether Jeeter and Ada had the same parents. Dude runs around screeching and imitating his car's horn. He can be funny, but he's certainly the most grating element of the movie. Luckily, he gets his comeuppance, which makes it well worth putting up with him. The other child, a 23 year old girl, Ellie May (Gene Tierney, in a very early appearance and gorgeous as the earthy farmer's daughter Ford really fetishizes her, to tell you the truth), is in love with her brother-in-law, Lov (Ward Bond, whom I didn't even recognize). He chose Ellie May's younger sister because he wanted a young wife 23 is too old and he feared he'd be the laughing stock of Tobacco Road. Most of the movie focuses on Jeeter (Charley Grapewin), who is trying to remain on his land. It's quite amazing. These characters are so stereotypical, and they can certainly be construed as highly offensive. The Beverly Hillbillies probably contains less offensive material about hicks. With any other artist at the helm, it would be completely reprehensible. Yet, in Ford's hands, Jeeter Lester exhibits as much humanity as Tom Joad. We laugh at his ridiculousness, but we care for him very much. His wife (played by Marjorie Rambeau) doesn't get a lot of screen time, but when she does, she reminds me much of Jane Darwell's heartbreaking role as Ma Joad. After Dude tears into his parents about being at death's door, the two have a solemn conversation about their numerous, departed children. `I thought at least one of them would write,' Ada sighs. The film also boasts the greatest number of occurrences of Ford's favorite hymn, `Shall We Gather at the River'. It even serves as the base of the film's score. If the wackiness doesn't put the detractors off, that song very well might! I love it myself. As funny as Tobacco Road is, and it is quite funny almost all of the time, it contains dozens of moments of the greatest American poetry. 9/10.
Director John Ford was certainly an odd duck; the stories he was attracted to ran the gamut from "The Searchers" to "The Quiet Man" to this one, a head-scratcher of a tragicomedy based on Erskine Caldwell's book and Jack Kirkland's popular stage-adaptation. Eccentric Georgia farm family is threatened with poverty when the bank forecloses on their land, leading patriarch Jeeter to use his wiles in hopes of raising $100 for a year's worth of rent. Movie swings wildly from hick-slapstick to poignant drama; however, once you've had a chance to get attuned to Ford's rhythm, it's a pretty terrific ride. Charley Grapewin gives an Oscar-caliber performance (he wasn't even nominated!), and it's fun to see Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews looking very youthful three years before "Laura". Good show! *** from ****
I really enjoyed reading Erskine Caldwell's TOBACCO ROAD, and I was
certainly glad when American Movie Classics finally offered the rarely
televised film "Tobacco Road" for several months. I don't understand why
this classic by famed director John Ford has never been available on VHS
The film is based on the long-running Broadway stage production of "Tobacco Road" which was based on Caldwell's book, but still the essence of the book is mostly there, in my opinion. (I've read that Erskine Caldwell liked the stage production but not the film version of his famous novel, however.)
With perhaps a bit more satire, but less bawdiness and tragedy than the book, the film depicts the plight of the dirt-poor Lester family around the time of the Great Depression. Jeeter Lester's father and grandfather before him had prospered on the once rich Georgia farmland, but the land became fallow, leaving the family to scrape for food (like raw turnips) and with little hope of escaping "the poor farm."
Despite the appearances of Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Ward Bond, Charles Grapewin (as Jeeter Lester) is the star of "Tobacco Road." As many times as I've enjoyed watching "Tobacco Road," I'd still like to see a remake, even a televised mini-series, that more closely follows the original storyline and presents the characters as they truly are: grotesque, risque, and pathetic.
This film is so Great because it is full of contrasts. One minute it is
the most funny unbelievable thing you've ever seen and the next your in
tears. The sadness and the hilarity are spliced together with moments
of shock and horror. Tobacco Road exposes the sweet, sensitive and
loving qualities of humanity, and at the same time remind us that we
are riddled with meanness, selfishness, and stupidity. I have watched
this film many times and never tire of viewing it, it always moves me.
It has been one of my very favorites since I first saw it on American
I just can't believe that it hasn't been remastered and released on DVD!!! I believe it was released on VHS years ago, it is super hard to find and goes for big $'s (and who uses VHS anymore anyway?) C'mon Criterion get with it, this movie deserves it. I got so desperate to see this Masterpiece that I bought a VHS copy on eBay but it is so terrible, blurry, fuzzy, and the sound inaudible, I would not dare share it with anyone because none of the Genius would be conveyed. This guy on eBay was selling lots to folks like myself wishing to have our own so we could watch it again and again, and share this Great Film with friends. It's the only film in my top 10, that hasn't been, or isn't scheduled for remastering. Come on re-master executives, what's the problem?
I really and truly loved this movie.. so much so I have made VHS copies for my friends so they can see just how funny and comical this one is. hardly anyone I talked to has ever seen it and most have never heard of it either.. due to the fact that it is unavailable on DVD or VHS and hardly ever shown on TV makes it more exciting to watch. I really want to give it more than a 7 but I will stay with that because of the somewhat unpopularity by some movie critics of this movie. most movie critics wouldn't know a good movie if it hit them in the face. all in all it is a refreshing type of comedy that will keep you laughing for hours and hours. a movie that everyone should experience at least once.
It's hard to even understand why TOBACCO ROAD was such a long-running
success on the Broadway stage. Fox has taken the play, cut all of the
more sizzling elements that made it intriguing, and reduced it to a
tale of dirt poor farm folk too shiftless to make a living off the land
with the accent on comedy rather than focusing on a few of the more
It's certainly a disappointment to find Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney totally wasted in small roles early in their careers at Fox. Tierney, especially, has little to do but say a few lines and look as unscrubbed as possible. It's really an embarrassment to watch her in this role.
Overacting is in abundance, particularly from William Tracy as the imbecilic son, Dude, who is crazy from start to finish (with Ward Bond delivering him a well-deserved punch at the finale). Marjorie Rambeau as a gospel-singing fanatic overacts too and even Ward Bond is irritating at times.
But in the central role of the shiftless farmer who spends the whole story trying to devise ways to save his land with a $100 down payment, Charlie Grapewin gives a fine, nuanced performance, slipping easily from comedy to drama without a strain. Elizabeth Patterson tries to give some dignity to the role of his equally downtrodden wife.
John Ford's uninspired direction is largely responsible for the lackluster overall impact of the film, based on the play taken from an earthy Erskine Caldwell novel. Whatever elements made the play so enormously successful have been eliminated in Nunnally Johnson's screenplay.
Summing up: A huge disappointment on many levels although it contains some striking B&W photography.
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.
In Georgia, near to the Savannah River, the lazy and crook hillbilly
Jeeter Lester (Charley Grapewin) lives in the Tobacco Road with his
wife Ada (Elizabeth Patterson), his son Dude (William Tracy) and his
single daughter Ellie May (Gene Tierney) in a very poor condition. When
the bank decides to take over his land, the banker George Payne (Grant
Mitchell) is convinced by his friend Capt. Tim Harmon (Dana Andrews) to
lease the land to Jeeter for US$ 100.00 per year. Jeeter plots a means
to loan the amount from the widow Sister Bessie Rice (Marjorie Rambeau)
that has just received U$ 800.00 from the life insurance company.
However, Bessie decides to get married with Dude and uses the money to
buy a brand new car for Dude. Jeeter plots a means to sell her car
while he tries to marry Ellie May with his son-in-law Lov Bensey (Ward
Bond) that was left by his wife.
"Tobacco Road" is absolutely overrated with a boring story that is not funny and annoying characters. Dude honking the horn of the car is irritating; Jeeter is a small time crook and thief that steals his own family and it is impossible to feel any empathy or sympathy for such hillbilly. My vote is four.
Title (Brazil): "Caminhos Ásperos" ("Rough Ways")
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
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.
After a bank purchases the land, a family of hillbillies faces eviction if it can't come up with the rent. Based on a Caldwell novel that in turn became a stage play, this is very broad comedy that rarely rises above the level of The Three Stooges. Grapewin plays a lazy farmer who has so many children that he and his wife can't keep track of them. Tracy is horribly over-the-top as one of the grown children living at home. Tierney is third billed as Tracy's useless sister but barely has a line of dialog. Rambeau does OK as a neighbor. Andrews plays the only character who has some dignity. Every once in a while Ford came up with a real clunker, and this is one of them.
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