Follow by Email

Thursday, November 7, 2019

"The Southerner" (1945)

It's a tall order: make watchable entertainment out of seemingly impossible subject matter. But legendary French director Jean Renoir ("The Rules of the Game", "Grand Illusion") pulls it off --mostly. This is the story about a year in the life of a poor backwoods family trying, against all odds, to begin a sustainable farm for their livelihood. And when I say poor, I mean dirt poor. No shoes, living in a miserable rundown shack held together with newspaper patched walls, always hungry, always fighting the elements...not the usual escapist Hollywood fare by a long shot. The scene where they finally catch a possum and happily chow down on the greasy meat is equal parts gross and heartwarming. Perjoratively, some would call these folks 'white trash' or 'hillbillies'. Here, Renoir enobles their struggle, imbuing their grit with that American Puritan work ethic so that we root for them no matter what. No doubt this played well to a WWII audience. Zachary Scott is the father, the backbone of the family. He is most famously remembered as the slick and slimy boyfriend of Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce". This is a one-eighty from that. He turns up the volume on his real Texas-bred accent and he's a stalwart charmer with an aw-shucks positivity that doesn't feel corny. It doesn't hurt that his matinee idol looks make him easy to watch, he's almost always in well worn chambray shirts and faded dungarees looking like a model in a Ralph Lauren Jeans ad. The wife is a chipper Betty Field, an underrated actress who would go on to a long career in character roles. Again, she's awfully pretty after a scorching day of cotton picking, coiffed hair and dewey makeup, but that's Hollywood for ya. It can't be ignored so let's get the worst part of the film out on the table: the granny role, played here by Beulah Bondi, is so badly written and acted it makes your teeth hurt. Bondi's hammy, crotchety corn pone delivery makes Irene Ryan's Granny Clampett look like Shakespearean acting. It's worth the unintentional chuckles it elicits, so just enjoy the rest of the picture.

No comments:

Post a Comment