Judge William "Billy" Priest lives in a very patriotic (Confederate) southern town. Priest plays a laid-back, widowed judge who helps uphold the law in his toughest court case yet. In the meantime, he plays matchmaker for his young nephew.Written by
Opening card: The figures in this story are familiar ghosts of my own boyhood. The war between the states was over, but its tragedies and comedies haunted every grown man's mind, and the stories that were swapped took deep root in my memory. There was one man Down Yonder I came especially to admire for he seemed typical of the tolerance of that day and the wisdom of that almost vanished generation. I called him Judge Priest, and I tried to draw reasonably fair likenesses of him and his neighbors and the town in which we lived. An old Kentucky town in 1890. --- --- Irvin S. Cobb See more »
Will Rogers did three films with director John Ford who probably knew best how to utilize Will Rogers folksy charm and personality on the screen. Judge Priest is the best of the three films Rogers did with Ford. The film is based on a character created by Rogers fellow American humorist Irvin S. Cobb.
Cobb's Judge Priest stories are based on characters created from his childhood in Paducah, Kentucky. Priest is a man very much like Will Rogers in real life, full of homespun wisdom and common sense. The casting is almost perfect, I can't think of anyone else who could have done the role better.
The film is an amalgam of several of those stories the main plot line being the assault of Frank Melton by town misanthrope David Landau. The case would normally come before Will Rogers, but he's forced to recuse himself because it's the first case of Tom Brown who is the nephew of Rogers. Brown is back home now, a newly minted lawyer and he's involved with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Anita Louise. There's a connection between his personal and professional life that Brown little suspects.
Cobb's childhood Kentucky is an idyllic place where even the newly freed black people are contented in their second class status. The racist overtone of Judge Priest is unmistakable and why the film is criticized today. However Irvin S. Cobb was painting an accurate picture of the servile blacks, servile because they had to be. But the Stepin Fetchit character goes way over the top.
Judge Priest was later remade by Ford in the Fifties as The Sun Shines Bright and though the more obvious racial stereotyping got cleaned up somewhat, it could never be eliminated from the film.
But the film because of the presence of Will Rogers gets a high rating from me. It's a chance to see one America's wittiest and wisest men at his homespun best and that opportunity should not be passed up.
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