John Ford weaves three "Judge Priest" stories together to form a good- natured exploration of honour and small-town politics in the South around the turn of the century. Judge William ...
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John Ford weaves three "Judge Priest" stories together to form a good- natured exploration of honour and small-town politics in the South around the turn of the century. Judge William Priest is involved variously in revealing the real identity of Lucy Lake, reliving his Civil War memories, preventing the lynching of a youth and contesting the elections with Yankee Horace K. Maydew. Written by
Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>
When discussing this enriched remake of his 1934 film featuring Will Rogers, director John Ford, not one to speak with crossed fingers, is quoted by Peter Bogdanovich: " 'The Sun Shines Bright' is my favorite picture - I love it. And it's true to life, it happened. Irvin Cobb got everything he wrote from real life, and that's the best of his Judge Priest stories." Three Cobb stories: "The Sun Shines Bright", "The Man From Massac", and "The Lord Provides", form the basis of a Laurence Stallings screenplay set in 1905 Fairfield, Kentucky, where incumbent magistrate William Priest (Charles Winninger in a rare starring turn) faces a close election against Yankee prosecutor Horace Maydew (Milburn Stone), while traces from a good many of Ford's customary themes are in place, including his relish for lost causes, Christian based parables, and the significance of closely-knit communities. When 20th Century Fox destroyed expurgated negatives from his initial Judge Priest effort, Ford decided to re-film it, and this unabashedly sentimental essay displays remarkable artistry from this highly visual director, as evil is mastered by simple good nature, even without the "director's cut" that restores over ten minutes of important footage, and is not widely available. Ford employs many of his favourite stock company players including two, Stepin Fetchit and (for the last time in a Ford picture) his brother Francis, who had been cast in the 1934 production, and all perform with enthusiasm, Winninger earning acting honours for his full-blooded performance, and viewers will appreciate the magnificent funeral procession and service scenes along with others where Ford's brother-in-law, assistant director Wingate Smith, utilizes his outstanding control of extras, a superlative element in a film that benefits from many such, and from which was reproduced a large print that was placed over the head of Ford's bed until his death.
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