A Movie A Day: Quint on JUDGE PRIEST (1934)
Lord help you, white child! What them Yankees been feedin’ you?
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Now this is more like it. After two early John Ford comedies I found one that I really dug. We jump from yesterday’s DOCTOR BULL via Mr. Ford and star Will Rogers.
I’m not a big fan of either DOCTOR BULL or UP THE RIVER, the other two Ford comedies we’ve covered so far, but this one really worked for me.
First of all, the transfer comes from a real, complete print with no “best materials available” type deal that we’ve had to put up with for the previous two, but that’s all surface matters. What really works here is the story.
Based on a novel by Irvin S. Cobb, this film takes place in the late 1800s, post Civil War, where most of the Kentucky townspeople we see are Union veterans. The aim isn’t to focus on race or excuse the South’s positions during the war, but to look fondly at these men as people.
The opening crawl is a note from Mr. Cobb explaining that he grew up knowing many of these people and wanted to accurately portray them, especially Judge Priest who was a real person.
I think the world could use more Judge Priests, especially if the real man was even half as kind-hearted and smart as the way Will Rogers played him.
It’s a bizarre little movie. In my filmgoing experience, I don’t see too many films nostalgic about the post-war South, so that adds a whole layer to this film that I think is a big part of my enjoyment of it.
In many ways this film is about tolerance, not just of different races, but of different people in general. Judge Priest spends the majority of the movie playing dumb, but quietly manipulating everyone around him to be better people.
The main story is probably how he deals with his nephew, played by Tom Brown, fresh out of law school with the ambition to be a lawyer. Brown is innocent as innocent can be, in love with a girl his mother radically disapproves of, a neighbor and childhood crush played by Anita Louise.
The poor girl’s mother died in childbirth and they don’t know who the father is, so obviously that means she will tarnish the Priest family name if Tom Brown picks her instead of the arranged bride, a snooty brunette and daughter of local sleazy politician.
Will Rogers doesn’t quite cotton to that idea and manipulates everybody, including his rigid sister, to arrange things so Brown and Louise have as much alone time as possible.
There’s another layer to this movie having to do with a trial of a man who knifed a barber (the skeazy bastard had it coming, though) and seeing how Rogers pulls strings and sets the stage just right, even when he’s removed from the bench for being partial to the case, is kind of joyous.
I think a lot of people will focus on the race issues of the movie and I can’t argue against that too much. This is my first Stepin Fetchit movie, actually. If you don’t know that name, he was a vaudeville performer who became the first African American superstar. But he became so famous by portraying a pretty offensive stereotype, the lazy black guy with a fistful of fried chicken, etc, etc.
So I feel a little guilty that I was so enteretained by him in this movie. Yes, yes… it’s offensive, but there’s something innocent about his performance (a character oddly named Poindexter) and the way he works with Will Rogers. I never got the feeling that Rogers treats him as inferior.
Also in the movie is Hattie McDaniel who works for the Judge. I’m no fan of GONE WITH THE WIND and find that flick to be roundly overrated, but I’ve always loved Hattie McDaniel in the movie. She’s just as likable and warm here… If Jolly had a face, she’d be wrestling with Santa Claus to claim the label.
That’s the thing with the African Americans represented in this movie… if you can look at it considering not only the time-frame in which the movie is set, but also when it was made you can overlook some of the overt stereotypes, or at least accept them as part of history. Much like SONG OF THE SOUTH, this is post-Civil War and also like SOUTH OF THE SOUTH most of the white characters don’t really treat the black characters with disrespect. In fact, I would argue that in Song of the South Uncle Remus is the most likable person, the only reasonable adult role-model for the children.
Here Hattie is very much a mother hen type, but she does sing spirituals… actually, our introduction to her is singing about washing the Judge’s clothes as she picks them from the line. So, yeah, there’s a lot of stereotyping, but I believe that in McDaniel’s case it’s more or less an accurate post-War representation. Maybe not so much with Stepin Fetchit’s bumbling, lazy, thieving, high-pitched caricature. Maybe I’m an evil, evil racist bastard for laughing at his jokes, but I don’t think so. I think he’s just funny and I like some really wrong humor sometimes.
Final Thoughts: Judge Priest is a charming, funny little movie. The plot isn’t very deep, but the characters are all interesting and well-developed. I believe Irvin S. Cobb’s intro. I can see all these people existing in one form or another. There is a reality and a healthy nostalgia for this time period and its people that comes off as very sweet. It’s definitely the most successful of the three early Ford comedies I’ve seen and one that I feel I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Tuesday, November 11th: TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965)
Wednesday, November 12th: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
Thursday, November 13th: DANIEL (1983)
Friday, November 14th: EL DORADO (1967)
Saturday, November 15th: THE GAMBLER (1974)
Sunday, November 16th: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)
Monday, November 17th: SALVADOR (1986)
We leave John Ford and dive into some Agatha Christie for the next couple of AMADs. See you folks tomorrow for TEN LITTLE INDIANS!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Nov. 11, 2008, 5:02 a.m. CST
by The Amazing G
first first on a AMAD article!
Nov. 11, 2008, 5:12 a.m. CST
Achievement unlocked ::Xbox sound here::
Nov. 11, 2008, 5:16 a.m. CST
You nut. So Quint, which five films from the first five months of Amad should I move to the top of my must see list? What are your five favs?---I don't know anything about the real Judge Priest, but I believe Rogers basically played himself in all his movies, so I guess we need more people like him.
Nov. 11, 2008, 5:25 a.m. CST
After looking back on them all, here are my five favorites, in no particular order:<BR><BR>The Matchmaker starring Anthony Perkins and Shirley MacLaine, Murder, My Sweet starring Dick Powell and Claire Trevor, DOA starring Edmond O'Brien, Libeled Lady starring Jean Harlow, William Powell and Myrna Loy and Isle of the Dead starring Boris Karloff. Now, that's not counting the super-obvious "why haven't you seen that?" movies, which would probably mean my top five including The Sound of Music and A Shot In The Dark.<BR><BR>But those are the 5 I was most pleasantly surprised by or that knocked me flat on my ass. Wait Until Dark would be high up there, too...
Nov. 11, 2008, 5:43 a.m. CST
by The Amazing G
Quint spoke to me personally in an AMAD srticle! ::Xbox sound here::
Nov. 11, 2008, 6:02 a.m. CST
thanks, that's good to know. Too bad you didn't get to The Body Snatcher during October. If you like Isle, you should love BS. Probably Karloff's best performance after the Frankenstein films. His best human performance. Try to connect the schedule back to Boris! Don't wait til next Hmad!
Nov. 11, 2008, 6:42 a.m. CST
... you should also check out Ford's other Judge Priest movie 'The Sun Shines Bright' from 1953, with Charles Winninger playing the Judge. It is even more unashamed in its Dixie nostalgia than its predecessor. There is a great scene towards the end, a funeral march, that is one of the great sentimental humanist statements in film history - you'll know when you see it. Stepin Fetchit is in it, too!
Nov. 11, 2008, 9:36 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
Oh wait. I was hoping for a Halford hard rocking flick. Look at the posters. Seriously, is it me, or were people uglier back then.
Nov. 11, 2008, 9:39 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
Quint, I don't know if you're ever read this book. It is hands down the absolute best Agatha Christie novel, granted I've only read a handful. I don't know about this version, but I've heard others have been attrocious. The thing is I don't know whether to recommend to anyone to read the book first or not. If you read the book you are rewarded with a wonderful mystery novel only to watch a flawed movie. By the same token if you see the movie first, one of the great mystery novels of the 20th century is ruined for you. I'd say read the book first.
Nov. 11, 2008, 12:01 p.m. CST
by Dr Eric Vornoff
...starting from El Dorado, which is every bit as great as Rio Bravo (how is that not in your top 5!). Very surprised to see you've never seen Once Upon a Time in America, hope you don't have anything else planned for that day, it's a long one.
Nov. 11, 2008, 2:32 p.m. CST
The original title of the book is rather shocking. Look it up.
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