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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

IN OLD KENTUCKY (1935)


This was Will Rogers final release after his fatal air crash and it delivers just the homespun laughs & warmth his fans had grown to expect. It’s a horse racing pic with underdog owners coming thru at the finish (like Capra ’s BROADWAY BILL before & the Marx Bros DAY AT THE RACES aft), smoothly put over by reliable George Marshall, though he’s unable to tame some of the meanspirited comic riffs. Adding to our discomfort is Hollywood’s mid-‘30s Kentucky with all the racial attitudes that can’t help but affect us in a manner unappreciated at the time. (The regular use of ‘boy’ to address black men is particularly galling.) But was it ‘unappreciated’ at the time? There’s a lot of dancing for the white folk from Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and superb stuff it is, yet he also dances just for his own pleasure and privately with Rogers. Later, in a fascinating sequence that trenchantly encapsulates more about race relations of the time then a host of serious story lines, Rogers goes blackface & exchanges clothes with Robinson to sneak out of jail. He’s almost out when the sheriff tells him to do some of that dancing. Rogers, playing it straight, obliges in comic fashion. But when he tries to sneak out the door, the sheriff threateningly orders him back. By the third or fourth time, there’s no blackface joke left, only a very real menace. It’s only after Rogers is exposed as white that he dares to dash out the door knowing these boys will think twice before shooting a white man. An extraordinary little sequence; unmissable.


ASPCA WARNING: Please be advised of a horrific spill taken by horse & rider about halfway in.

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