Sunday, January 21, 2018

Cabin in the Cotton

I had watched Cabin in the Cotton some time back but I didn't think it was on DVD. Apparently it got released to DVD as part of the Forbidden Hollywood: Vol. 9 set, which is also available from the TCM Shop. So I watched it again in order to do a full-length review.

Cabin in the Cotton is probably the least pre-Code of the movies I've seen mentioned in the "Forbidden Hollywood" sets, although by the time you're getting to Vol. 9, you've probably gotten through all of the really Code-violating films. Anyhow, this one starts off with scenes of white families picking cotton; it turns out that they're sharecroppers working for wealthy planter Lane Norwood (Berton Churchill). One family, the Blakes led by patriarch Tom (David Landau) is admonished because they're letting their son go to school instead of pick cotton. That adult son Marvin (Richard Barthelmess) is trying to get the family ahead.

Still, the family seems to be getting by, and can even lend coffee to some cousins in the form of Betty Wright (Dorothy Jordan), who is the obvious love interest for Marvin. But all of a sudden, Dad dies and everybody gives their best melodramatic reaction. Marvin gets a stroke of luck in that Lane is willing to help with Marvin's education in exchange for Marvin's keeping the books at the company store.

It's at the store that Marvin meets Lane's daughter Madge (Bette Davis). She's sexy enough in an early 1930s way, and is presented as the romantic rival for Marvin's interests. But Marvin's presence amongst the Norwoods is more important in a different way. The sharecroppers just know that Lane is cheating them, and now that they've got one of their own in with the Norwoods, they expect him to get the goods on Lane. Lane, for his part, knows that the sharecroppers are stealing from the cotton warehouse, and thinks he can use Marvin to find out who's doing the stealing.

It goes on like this until the climax, with one interesting break for a scene of a murder "investigation" that's basically all the rich guys chasing after the person they know is guilty, and meting out mob justice when they catch him in the swamps!

Cabin in the Cotton is clearly the product of a Warner Bros. that was producing those social issue movies in the early 1930s. In terms of moralizing, it ultimately comes down more on the side of the sharecroppers, which is understandably easy to do. Still, I did have some beef with them in that their desire to force Marvin into doing their bidding when he probably would have been better off getting a job elsewhere (there are one or two references to going to the big city) and supporting his folks as a white collar worker.

Richard Barthelmess is OK but nothing great; Bette Davis does reasonably well in a supporting part although that accent just didn't do it for me. David Landau's character dies off early enough that he doesn't have to suffer the indignities of playing the more melodramatic side of the sharecroppers; most of the rest of the sharecroppers are cutout archetypes with the exception of the Dorothy Jordan character.

Cabin in the Cotton is certainly worth a watch, although I've also definitely seen much better from the early 1930s.

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