Thursday, June 20, 2024

Not mine to give, or Our Father's House

Another of those movies that I recorded because the synopsis sounded interesting, even though I had never heard of the movie before I saw it on the TCM schedule, was Where the Lilies Bloom.

The story is narrated by Mary Call Luther (Julie Gholson, who didn't have a movie career other than this as far as I know), the second daughter of Roy Luther (Rance Howard, father of Ron). Roy is a widower living with his four children in the hardscrabble mountains of western North Carolina. They eke out a meager living as subsistence farmers -- well, not even that any more since Roy couldn't afford the taxes on the land and his rival Kiser Pease (Harry Dean Stanton, along with Howard one of the few "names" in the cast) bought the land, making the Luthers effectively sharecroppers and making a little extra money by scrounging for herbs and roots.

Mary Call is the narrator despite being the second child, largely because she's got a good head on her shoulders, as opposed to eldest daughter Devola (Jan Smithers, the one other "name" in the cast, who would go on to WKRP in Cincinnati) who is more of a dreamer. So it's Mary Call that Dad confides in and who is sort of the woman of the house with Mom dead, this despite the fact that she's only middle school aged. Dad tells her that he's getting sicker and doesn't expect to live that much longer and that she's going to have to keep the family together after he dies. The Luther's don't seem to have much in the way of relatives, and Dad doesn't want the kids split up and put into various foster homes, although you have to wonder what's going to happen to a family like this once the kids all grow up.

Anyhow, Dad has one other wish for Mary Call, which is that she keep Devola from marrying Kiser, since Dad sees Kiser as his enemy for having taken the land out from under him. Kiser kinda sorta has his eye on Devola in spite of the age difference, although I get the impression that in Appalachia generations ago (the movie seems contemporary to at least 1969, when the book on which it is based was published), such an age difference wasn't quite as big a deal. Mary Coll agrees, and starts getting ready for when Dad finally dies.

That happens maybe a third of the way into the movie, and much of the rest of the movie deals with Mary Coll trying to keep the outside world from finding out that Dad died, which seems like it would be a pretty hard ruse to keep up, especially by the 1960s. Despite having both Kiser and some other busybodies visit, everybody acts like they don't realize that Roy Luther is actually dead. But you can guess where the movie is going to go.

Where the Lilies Bloom isn't a bad movie, helped by production having been done on location, that being the Wataugh County, NC, where Appalachian State University is located, in the era before it changed the demographics of the region. The production also hired a bunch of locals as extras, which also adds a lot of local flavor.

However, the story does strain credulity, since I find it hard to believe nobody could figure out how Dad had died. It's the same issue Our Mother's House does, although that's mostly a pretty darn good movie. All Mine to Give at least figured out that everybody was going to know the kids were now orphans. Where the Lilies Bloom isn't quite as good as the other two, although the location shooting makes the story worth watching.

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