Whatever possessed Jean Renoir to romanticize poverty in America? He came to Hollywood to escape war-torn Europe & Nazi occupied France, & directed mediocre piffle like The Woman on the Beach (1947) which did him very little credit. For me the only interesting thing about The Southerner (1945) was how Renoir occasionally makes the American south look like rural France.
He so fails to create an appropriate mood that his environment for impoverished sharecroppers is in a couple sequences indistinguishable from his environment for vacationing Parisians in A Day in the Country (Partie de campagne, 1936).
The great director of La Grand Illusion (1937) should have made a better film than The Southerner. Though there are intimations of a serious film about social inequity, in the main this is a Hallmark Card sentimental treatment of poverty & struggle.
It is as though The Grapes of Wrath (1940) were recast with the Beverly Hillbillies, but instead of the Clampetts telling jokes, they deliver happy prayers to Jesus or sermons on Job.
Granny (Beulah Bondi instead of Irene Dunn) is such an unpleasant complainer she should've been murdered & fried up with mush, yet she like a dozen other cornpone & moronic elements of the film are given the full blown mawkish treatment.
Zachery Scott turns in as good a performance as can be expected while acting out this limp sermon. His delight in a successful possum hunt is one of the film's few nice moments. But in the main the story wants to convey an inherent reward from unrewarding struggle & love of the unproductive land. The treatment is all too tepid & cannot drum up any sense either of human strength or of tragedy.
It's a world where a beautiful wife (Betty Field) can work hard in the field all day & not get sunburnt or dirty, but always look just like Elly Mae fresh from the outdoor powder room. It's a world in which the most extremely unneighborly of neighbors (J. Carrol Naish) on the verge of outright murder can instantly experience an epiphanic change of heart over a catfish adventure. Even starvation & disease has a guaranteed upbeat outcome.
Some film historians regard The Southerner as Renoir's best American film & a Hollywood masterpiece. But "Candy-assed" describes it better. No road leads to success, but all roads lead to happiness, in this deluded fable.
Baby Daze (1939) is a moderately cute sixteen minute short subject, in its day called a "two reeler comedy." It was included as an extra in a dvd release of The Southerner, though it in no way illuminates that feature.
It's also included on the dvd Edgar Kennedy Two Reeler Comedy Collection released in 2003. Edgar Kennedy was regarded as a master of "slow burn" humor which became the life's blood of old time radio shows.
This short film is a domestic comedy about n'er-do-well relatives Joe & Emma (Don Brodie & Lillian Miles) invited to stay with well-off Edgar & Vivien (Edgar Kennedy & Vivien Oakland), because the poor relations have a new infant.
Due to misunderstandings, however, Edgar believes his own wife is about to have a baby. The point of this lightweight little tale is how crabby tight-fisted Edgar becomes warm & generous due to the infant.
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