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Morna Dabney is engaged to soldier Clay MacIvor in the days before the War Between the States. Morna's grandfather Big Sam Dabney founded their Mississippi plantation near Levington, which thrives in the Deep South, but he remains loyal to the Union, as does his son Hoab, Morna's father. As Mississippi secedes, Hoab plans to withdraw the area around his plantation and remain neutral, and he gains support from local newspaperman Keith Alexander. Keith falls in love with Morna, whose fiancé Clay has joined the Confederate Army. Clay plans to punish the would-be neutral citizens of Levington by raiding the area, but Morna, with the help of her grandfather's Choctaw friend Tishomingo, attempts to thwart the attack. Morna sacrifices greatly to protect her home and the man she really loves. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Among the hundreds of hopefuls for the role of Scarlett O'Hara was young Susan Hayward who was about as unknown as you could get when David O. Selznick was testing potential Scarletts. Almost a decade later Hayward got to play a lead as a southern belle in Tap Roots. Although there are some superficial resemblances to Scarlett O'Hara in Morna Dabney this film is not Gone With The Wind by a stretch.
This is set in Mississippi at the beginning of the Civil War. The Dabneys are the local Cartwrights in the area, a proud plantation family with the requisite slaves. However they regard the Lebanon valley area and all its residents as serfs blacks and whites and Russell Simpson the head of the clan correctly sees that if Lincoln is elected and there is civil war, it's going to end badly for the south and life which includes slavery ownership for him is at an end. So his solution is for his part of Mississippi to secede from the rest of the state and declare neutrality. But Simpson dies and his son Ward Bond sends out a call to all who don't favor secession to join him in his valley fortress and keep the impending Civil War out.
Bond has two daughters, Susan Hayward and Julie London and a son Richard Long. Hayward is courted by cynical newspaper owner/editor Van Heflin, the Rhett Butler of the piece and Whitfield Connor a soldier set to leave the army and fight for the south. Hayward has them both panting hot and heavy for her and her love life gets hopelessly entangled with the politics of the Civil War.
There were pockets of Union sentiment all over the South during the war. Not everyone wanted to fight for some planter's right to own people. But nowhere was there anything like this recorded in the history of the era. Union sympathizers simply hunkered down and waited for the war to end however it would.
Hayward and Heflin are a pair of my favorite players and they were both good, doing as best they could to carry a preposterous plot premise. Ward Bond has a great scene going totally mad as he sees his valley being shot to smithereens by the Confederate army.
Boris Karloff is also in the cast. He plays a Choctaw Indian medicine man who seems to be the only one around and he's a retainer of Russell Simpson, a kind of Dabney family guardian. I'm sure the book on which Tap Roots is adapted better explains his presence, but he seems grafted into the film as far as I could tell.
Tap Roots is far from the worst film Hayward and Heflin were ever involved in. Still if Universal Pictures thought they had their own Gone With The Wind, they fell way short of the mark.
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