Beautifully observed & intensely moving, this bio-pic of folk song legend Woody Guthrie may be the only Hollywood film to give its director of photography a first-position solo title card in the opening credits. A distinction well-earned by Haskell Wexler whose dusty skies and low-yellow lighting scale capture the mid-‘30s Depression era in all its terrible beauty. And that’s merely the start of this unusual film’s achievements charting the early hard-scrabble arc of Guthrie’s days on the road, quitting a Texas town crushed by winds both natural & economic to tramp West only to find an equally depressed California where he’ll stumble upon fame & a measure of immortality balladeering for the union man. Everyone involved is at their best here, with director Hal Ashby showing quiet authority at a steady measured pace, beautifully coordinated with David Carradine’s casual command as the caustic & caring Woody Guthrie. Without skimping on ornery stubbornness, wanderlust & womanizing, Carradine, in the role of lifetime, goes all Gary Cooper to fine effect, long, lean, full-lipped. The narrative structure goes a bit limp looking for dramatic resolution over Guthrie’s refusal to compromise principles. But so much is perfectly caught, it’d be plumb capitalistically greedy to ask for more. Woody would have urged us to share the wealth. Watch out for an early magnificent dust storm effect making its terrifying way into town (presumably a matte effect via Albert Whitlock) and for some pioneering steady-can work during a drive thru a California Workers Camp. NOTE: A new remastering on Twilight Time is sure to improve on the old, barely adequate M-G-M disc.
DOUBLE-BILL: John Ford’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH/’40, with David Carradine’s father John in a major role, is an obvious influence; so too Frank Capra’s MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN for likely role-model Gary Cooper.
SCREWY THOUGH OF THE DAY: Even with multiple Oscar noms(6) & wins(2), GLORY was largely overlooked. Check out the earnestly awful trailer to see what scared people off. Poster’s pretty lousy, too.