The Southerner Reviews
He doesn't have much money or things like tractors, but he's got two hands, a good body and two mules, right? He can make it work... maybe. And this is the scenario that drives one of the few English language films that Jean Renoir made over the years. He comes to this part of America - and, though uncredited, William Faulkner contributes to the script for some of that good ol' fried-Southern talk for authenticity, which is felt - and sees things in a way that is probably truer to the American spirit than some might think some French guy would make.
This is all about cutting out your own path and that "pulling yourself by your own bootstraps" mentality which has become a cliche (somewhat on the Right actually, or Libertarian at least) and not going for the path of least resistance, that thing called a "job" for someone else. While one might want to criticize Sam for doing such a hasty action, the drama from the film, which comes in both the personal (his son gets sick from, you know, not having a friggin' cow around at first, and from a lack of vegetables), and the more natural (a big storm and a flood will basically do one in if the cotton's just there and not farmed yet), feels like its own kind of organic criticism.
And yet Renoir never judges, and the characters who try to question Sam's motives sound reasonable enough like from his brawny, rowdy friend (who at one point gets into a bizarre, over the top but rather uproarious bottle-throwing fight with a bar owner in the local town, a memorable set piece by far). It's pure in its simple view of this man and how he wants to make a good life for his family, even if he is "gambling" so to speak with the land. There's this feeling to much of Renoir's filmmaking that emphasizes what good can come from this Earth that is farmed and the hard work that goes in to it; there's a few brief dips into religion - at one point Sam stops in his tracks and looks up and talks out loud praying to God, which is a fairly static shot but well acted enough - but mostly it's about having some kind of spiritual, even existential piece of mind: Sam knows the hassles and he knows the drawbacks, and if has to fight for it (and he does) he will.
There are caricatures, to be sure, like the old grandmother who spends most of the time complaining (in a move that might make John Ford cringe, she stays out by the vehicle as a storm comes in when the family first comes to the new house, and finally comes in reluctantly for her coffee), or a few of the townspeople or Lloyd's character (even the neighbor's daughter, with some off-and-on come-ons to Sam, is something of a type), but it never stops the film much dead in its tracks. There's a flow to this movie that, like several of Renoir's other films, has something closer to poetry than a hard-lined, traditional narrative arc that has to his A-B-and-C. There's ups and some major downs, and moments where Sam really does doubt himself, and by the conclusion there's this really wonderful moment where Sam goes from giving up to coming back around when he sees what he's accomplished.
In short, The Southerner has its flaws in some of the acting, but the execution of this story and how deeply felt it stays to what its trying to show about a rural section of American (or really world) life is admirable and exquisite in its way. Its art is plentiful even as it seems slight and conventional at times, which is a minor miracle especially for someone who's coming to this place anew.
(1945) The Southerner B/W
Another film about about what it's like growing up during the 'Great Depression'. Story from an actual novel of the same name directed well by Jean Renoir. The film has a superficial ending which some could not accept, but again it's not based on real life and is very well made!!
The Southerner (1945) is a film directed by Jean Renoir, based on the novel Hold Autumn in Your Hand by George Sessions Perry. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Director, Original Music Score and Sound. Renoir was named Best Director by the National Board of Review, which also named the film the third best of 1945.
It stars Zachary Scott, Betty Field, J. Carrol Naish, Beulah Bondi, Percy Kilbride, Charles Kemper, Blanche Yurka, and Norman Lloyd.
Future director Robert Aldrich was an assistant director on this film.
Previously watched it on AMC or TMC, and fell in love with the story and couldn't wait to find a copy