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It still happens, and the Messenger story is a sad one. This occurred
in Florida in 1951, and if you have ever lived in this "right to work
state" oppression does still go on, in subtler forms.
A previous review hinted at inbreeding, on the part of the victim. Perhaps he has worked in the Florida jail system. Is a person to be condemned because of their family? Apparently, some reactionaries believe so. Just as they probably believe in state "vouchers" recently declared illegal by the Florida Supreme Court.
This is an important story which people should be exposed to; there is still injustice occurring; whether or not people accept this depends, I guess, on whether or not their son or daughter ends up in a Florida prison. Then they may start to care about their constitutional rights, and how they are being violated.
I just watched this movie and I thought it was very good and it showed the trials of being poor is society at that time. Today it is not as bad but you can still get stuck in the system and lost in the cracks. Back then so many families were torn apart for no reason. Greed, lust, lying, and having money could get you everything and the poor just got poorer. There were two classes, the have and the have not classes. I came from a middle class family but my father did not. He would have been considered poor white trash. When he died he had a considerable bank account and a home that was paid off. My mother wants for nothing even now when dad has been gone for 10 years. Being poor is a matter is circumstance and not usually a life choice as was shown in this film. They did not choose to live that way and aspired to live better. Circumstances can be changed! I enjoyed this movie and would probably buy it if on DVD.
This is what might be called a poor white trash nightmare, circa 1951.
Illiterate Florida tenant farmers are thrown in jail for not paying a
mostly bogus debt. Never mind that debtor's prison was one of the
things this country did away with, and that poverty is no crime. This
is based on a true story, which allows us to imagine how things REALLY
were. The three youngest of the five Messenger children are made wards
of the state. The Florida cops, prison guards and social welfare people
are mostly stereotypical degenerate sadists usually found in black
oppression films set in places like ante bellum Mississippi or
mid-twentieth century South Africa. One of the points being made here
is that prejudice in the south against poor whites was sometimes as bad
as prejudice against blacks.
The thing wrong with this movie and so many like it is that the unrelenting oppression of the central characters by the state is predictable, and their struggle against that oppression is admirable and heroic. The truth is not so simple. To give director Neema Barnette credit we can see that Kathryn Messenger, played with palpable, almost painful veracity by the wide-eyed Tyne Daly, was clumsy and crude and did stupid things (like trying to bribe a welfare clerk). Her husband, sadly impersonated by Gerald McRaney, groveled a lot. There is not a hint of alcohol or drug abuse by the poor Messengers; their only faults appear to be ignorance and poverty. Perhaps it was so.
Alicia Silverstone has a minor part as the 15-year-old daughter in a paper thin house dress like a ripe tart from a Faulkner novel or a Tennessee Williams play, but manages to keep covered up. There's a hint of inbreeding with all that white flesh being flashed about, and the constant suggestion of impending rape and/or sexual abuse, but it's mostly a tease to keep the audience from falling asleep.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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