The Southerner (1945)
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Critic Reviews for The Southerner
It may be trenchant realism, but these are times when there is a greater need. Escapism is the word.
A rich, unusual and sensitive delineation of a segment of the American scene well worth filming and seeing.
Jean Renoir's 1945 examination of dirt farmers in the American south is probably his finest Hollywood film, which is to say a masterpiece.
The land is pictured as being so real that you can almost taste it.
Made while Frenchman Renoir was in Hollywood in exile, this rural portrait is a better film than Swamp Water, showing the helmer's penchant for meticulous attention to detail and lyrical realism, for which he received his only directing Oscar nomination
Audience Reviews for The Southerner
Not sure if it was the terrible audio, but I liked this so much more after re-watching. The critical controversy about this when it came out was the question of naturalism, in the geography and in the performances. James Agee thought Zachary Taylor, from Austin, Texas, and Bondi were the authentic ones, and Betty Field was awful. Today, people seem to think Taylor is too doe-eyed and Bondi should have been on Hee-Haw. These performances contain their own contradictions. Parts of what Taylor and Bondi did are understated and perfect and contrast with moments which play more like theatrical tableaus. Norman Lloyd, in his role as a slavish hick peon, plays it like Harpo Marx in sackcloth and no props -- with just a little makeup he could be part of the family in Hills Have Eyes. Betty Field may clearly be un-Texan, but she is consistently charming while never playing to the camera, with an unglamorous, non-naive appeal. The style of the film itself compares to Bondi and Taylor. There are many moments, and many close-ups, that seem throwbacks to the upfront emotionalism of silent films. There are quick shots of the earth and the river that would fit within a modern documentary and not as antique inserts. At one point, Taylor leaves his wife crying in the dirt to go speak directly to God, Job-like. There are three angles of Taylor moving across the hot soil, quick shots, and suddenly he's delivering a languid soliloquy in a medium shot, his big eyes pointing up like in early Christian painting, with a blank backdrop for a bland sky behind him -- "Why'd you make it all so purty ..." Maybe the movie becomes beautiful since the audience has to draw out all the naturalism, physical and internal, that's there.
A man and his family -- including a gripey old grandmother entertainingly played by Beulah Bondi -- buy land and try to make it on their own as cottton farmers in Texas. It's very similar to the Good Earth, in that the family endures hardships -- financial, family, health -- along the way to fulfilling their dreams, but The Southerner isn't quite as dark in tone. A little sappy at times, but still a decent film.
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