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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


You’ll see why helmer John Ford loathed making this historical saga about the ups & downs of two families who intermarry their way thru Europe & America to control a vast cotton & textiles empire. The film is at its extravagant worse in the antebellum New Orleans prologue where a fruity Franchot Tone & a beauteous Madeleine Carroll deny their mutual rapture for the sake of family ties. But four reels in, WWI comes to call and the film blazes to life. (The Fox execs must have been hoping for CAVALCADE/'33 meets FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE/'21.) Not only are the battle scenes remarkably advanced technically (with big lifts from WOODEN CROSSES and A FAREWELL TO ARMS, both ‘32), but the whole story improves, even the acting begins to register. Well, perhaps not Stepin Fetchit though he does speak a bit faster than usual. He remains a baffling & demeaning presence to modern viewers, yet he may be the only black actor from that time period to show up on screen as a combat soldier . . . and within an integrated unit. Hollywood racial history is more complicated than it often appears in selective surveys. Once the war ends, the film still manages to hold interest as the 1929 crash & the rise of fascism make brief appearances. Pro that he was, Ford could work effectively outside of his fach, just check out the delightful THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING/’35, and this much maligned film is not as dire as its rep. Just hold your nose for the first half hour.

CONTEST: Near the end of the film, there's a dead giveaway that this was released just before the Production Code clamp-down got under way. Find the tell-tale action to claim the usual MAKSQUIBS prize: a write-up on the NetFlix DVD of your choice.

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