Directed by John Ford
Fox Film Corporation
#85 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
This is essentially a love letter to a simpler time – in this case 1890’s Kentucky, where folks still remember the glories of the antebellum South vividly. Judge Priest (Will Rogers) presides over the court in his small town dispensing justice and folksy wisdom. His nephew returns to town, having just graduated from law school, and is courting a local belle. His mother objects due to the girl’s lack of breeding; her father’s identity is unknown. The nephew’s first client is a mysterious loner who is charged with assault for defending the girl’s honor. Judge Priest is forced to recuse himself from the case, which enables him to assist his nephew at the trial. With Hattie McDaniel as Judge Priest’s cook/maid and Stepin Fetchit as his errand boy.
Well, I have to admit that this was much better than Doctor Bull, the 1933 Will Rogers/John Ford movie I saw. There is a sort of small town charm to the storytelling. On the other hand, there is also much too much of Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, better known in his Stepin Fetchit persona. His shtick just makes my skin crawl. I can’t help it. Many people would also be offended by Hattie McDaniel’s character but that does not rub me so much the wrong way.
Setting the racial stereotyping questions aside, I do not understand why this pleasant but unremarkable film should be rated a “must see.” It is an introduction to Will Rogers, who I suppose is a major personality of early 20th Century American pop culture but not more than some others we don’t meet in our journey through The List. Will Rogers worked with Stepin Fetchit many times so it may be hard to pick a decent Rogers film that doesn’t include that character.
Clip – Stepin Fetchit and Hattie McDaniel