Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wacky Tabacky

An interesting movie that's recently returned to the Fox Movie Channel's lineup is Tobacco Road, which shows up again on the Fox Movie Channel tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM ET.

Charley Grapewin stars as Jeeter Lester, a hardscrabble farmer in Georgia's tobacco country who's got problems both professionally and personally. He's about to be dispossessed of his land since he can't pay the rent to the former owner's son (a young Dana Andrews) or the banker (veteran character actor Grant Mitchell). If he can't come up with $100 by the end of the week, it's off to the poor farm for him and his wife (Elizabeth Patterson). Worse, he's still got to of his children living at home with him. Son Dude (William Tracy) hasn't found a girl yet, while daughter Ellie May (Gene Tierney) is too old to be marriageable. Indeed, Jeeter tried to marry her off to Lov (Ward Bond), but he thought she was too old, and married one of Ada's younger sisters instead. Unfortunately, Lov doesn't care for his wife, since she's too independent-minded. Finally, enter into all of this "Sister" Bessie (Marjorie Rambeau). She's a widow who's found God, and a bit of money from her late husband. Dude, not having anything better to do, runs off with Sister Bessie, and Jeeter thinks he might be able to wheedle the money out of his new daughter-in-law....

Tobacco Road is interesting stuff, although it deals quite heavily in stereotypes. As such, it makes some of the scenes seem wildly over the top. Notable in this regard is the opening scene of the movie, in which the Lesters are hungry, when someone comes walking by with a bag of turnips -- poor Gene Tierney is reduced to rolling around in the dirt, apparently trying to offer her sexuality in exchange for those turnips! Still, some of the actors try their hardest, and give pretty good performances, Grapewin notable among them. Patterson does a good job, too, although she doesn't have enough of a role. The same could be said about Dana Andrews, although this was very early on in his career; and Grant Mitchell, although he was only a lead in B movies, and the banker role isn't a difficult one to play anyhow.

Tobacco Road was released to DVD, as part of the box set of John Ford's films at Fox. (Unfortunately, it only seems to be available as part of that box set.) Ford directed this a year after making The Grapes of Wrath, another movie that deals with famers who fell on hard times during the Depression. But while The Grapes of Wrath is fully serious, Tobacco Road delves into the comic, having been based not only a novel (by Erskine Caldwell), but the stage version of that novel, which had been a huge hit. Ultimately, Tobacco Road is interesting in its own right, as well as for those who might be fans of Gene Tierney or John Ford; but while interesting, it's also certainly not without its flaws.

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