After I watched this Great Depression drama I was divided several ways while thinking of what to tell you about the story. It takes place in 1934, when the great fist of poverty was crushing the life and soul out of so many good people around the world. I could tell you about the cardboard towns that sprang to life wherever the unemployed and desperately poor gathered. I could tell you about my grandfather's house going up for sale at a Sheriff's auction and, just like in this movie, being sold for a pittance to the folk living on the land.
I could recall stories of my father and mother, married on September 29, 1929, just a month before the great stock market collapse and the beginning of the Great Depression, living for weeks on only carrots and onions from a back-yard garden. I could recall the days when tramps and hobos were a proud lot of people who were at one time hard working people in search of the American Dream. I could elaborate on the mention of Captain John Smith, founder of the first permanent American commune - ity in Jamestown.
I could point out the curious number of unknown actors in this film . . . It was made with more than three times the number of actors that were needed . . . and so very many of them had never gotten a paycheck for acting before this film or after . . . . What is going on with that? I could tell you about music director Alfred Newman who earned 9 academy awards in a motion picture career that included over 300 movies between 1930 and 1974.
But I always returned to one man with a passion . . . King Wallis Vidor. Vidor, Texas was named for his wealthy businessman father Charles Vidor, who founded the lumber company that provided the building materials for the growing area. King Vidor is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest career as a movie director spanning 67 years from 1913 until 1980.
During the crushing days of the Great Depression King Vidor wrote this script, directed the movie, appeared for a few seconds in the movie, and even produced it, paying all of the expenses of making the film. I don't know a lot about the man, but just knowing these facts tells me more about the character of this legendary Hollywood director than a thousand biographies could.
He obviously wanted to give downtrodden families crushed by poverty not of their making a message of hope, and there are several good 'sermons' in the movie. One could watch the men digging a canal from the stream to the corn field and talk about moving mountains with not much more than the tiniest amount of faith. But what finally rose to the top of my consciousness in this movie was the scene where city girl Mary Sims, played by Karen Morley, stares in awe at a young sprout of corn sticking its head out of the dry dirt, growing proudly towards the sky.
Later in the movie, when they are out of hope and out of luck and ready to abandon everything that they had worked so hard for, Mary reminds husband John, played by Tom Keene, about that first little sprout popping out of the fertile ground with nothing but the bright blue sky as its target. When all looks hopeless, remember the joy of the first successes long ago and hold on just a bit longer, because the dawn is only moments away. Pop a big bowl of white kernel popcorn with lots of warm melted butter drizzled over it and enjoy the show.
Director: King Vidor
Stars: Karen Morley, Tom Keene, John Qualen