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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 9:18 am 
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I think Pilgrimage is awful and have always been confused at the praise it garners here-- if you like grating performance stylings of Tobacco Road maybe the central perf works, but not on my end. There are plenty of overlooked masterpieces in Ford's ouevre but this ain't one of 'em. If you're looking for more discussion of early Ford and rarities, be sure to check the dedicated thread on John Ford for thoughts on lots of the films in this set and out of it


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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 10:41 am 
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The set is dramatic looking, but --- Has anyone "re-packaged" the DVDs to make the DVDs easier to actually use.


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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 10:45 am 

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It is my intention to do so. I will put each of the discs in individual paper sleeves. The box and all the paraphernalia will get stored away.


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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 1:13 pm 
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liam fennell wrote:
No one earlier in this thread seems to have much enthusiasm for the early sound films, excepting Pilgrimage, which is kind of distressing!


The late silent/early sound era is a really weird period in Ford's career. From my vantage point, it seems like he was just emerging as fully formed artistic personality around 1926 or so. The director of 3 Bad Men and Upstream is clearly the Ford we know from his later sound films. Then he discovers Murnau and goes off on a wild (but really good) expressionist tangent with Four Sons and Hangman's House. Right when he seems to be falling in love with camera movement, sound arrives and the heavy equipment throws all of that out the window. Between the dawn of sound and 1933 (with Pilgrimage and Doctor Bull), he seems to be feeling his way back to the stylistic confidence he'd had before.


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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 4:13 pm 
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Michael Kerpan wrote:
The set is dramatic looking, but --- Has anyone "re-packaged" the DVDs to make the DVDs easier to actually use.

I put all the discs for this set and the Murnau and Borzage set in slim CD cases. I still leave the boxes up on my oversized book/DVD shelf, since they look so nice (and, really, what's the point of buying expensive boxsets if you're not going to impress the company with them?) Maybe this has already been discussed earlier in the thread, but I love how the box seems to be going for the style and texture of old 78 albums.

I really should re-visit this whole set. I don't think I ever even finished making it through the entire thing. I will say, though, that I never quite understood the hate for Tobacco Road. It's been a few years since I watched it, but I remember being quite impressed with the way Ford, by the end of the film, manages to make the viewer sympathize with the otherwise terrible, revolting Lester family.


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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 5:54 pm 
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I think the reaction to Tobacco Road can be chalked up to the fact that its the most unapologetically bizarre film in Ford's canon. I've grown to appreciate it, but it was initially quite disorienting.


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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 6:00 pm 
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It's the grotesque Cracker Barrel characterizations (for me, at least)


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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 6:15 pm 
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For me mixing that in with a political message the content of the film doesn't support is what frustrates. Redoing The Grapes of Wrath as a Boudu styled condemnation of those trumpeting the American poor with only self interest in mind is a great idea, but Ford's execution just turns it into some Ma and Pa Kettle geek show.


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PostPosted: Mon May 12, 2014 3:27 pm 
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I find that Tobacco Road works as an exploitation film. I think of its characterizations as being in similar territory to something like Street Trash, to name a random example. All of the central characters are just awful, despicable beings, and yet I find some sort of pleasure in viewing their grimy way of life. Combine that with the gorgeous cinematography and studio setting, and it’s just such a bizarre, fascinating film.

Not that it’s any indication of the film’s quality, but I think Tobacco Road certainly didn’t turn out the way Ford intended. I’m sure so many people here know way more about this subject than I do, but just a quick glance at even the Wikipedia page for Tobacco Road digs up this quote from the man himself:

"We have no dirt in the picture. We've eliminated the horrible details and what we've got left is a nice dramatic story. It's a tear-jerker, with some comedy relief. What we're aiming at is to have the customers sympathize with our people and not feel disgusted."

Is Wikipedia pulling my leg here? Is Ford joking? Clearly that doesn’t describe the final product at all, but I think the unsympathetic portrayal of the Lesters is not entirely incompatible with the film’s political message. For me, that message acknowledges that the Lesters are awful people, but this is America and they should be allowed to live freely, without any interference from banks, on their little plot of land that they’ve tended for their entire lives. Sure, it’s a rather simple theme, but when I watched the film I was quite struck with the way my perspective of the Lesters changed so drastically once the threatening banker character was introduced.


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PostPosted: Mon May 12, 2014 5:18 pm 
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Which is why I brought up the Boudu example and the key reason I find disappointment with the film. I think, whether real or not, that Ford quote is entirely correct in that the film feels soft and simple in regards to them and we don't get great enough a sense that they are cutting their own throats. The message of the film doesn't seem to work if the argument is one to the benefit of futility. The softness of the Lesters is exactly why the film strikes me as a geek show rather than a successful conveying of a political message.


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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2014 8:18 am 

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Emak-Bakia wrote:
It's been a few years since I watched it, but I remember being quite impressed with the way Ford, by the end of the film, manages to make the viewer sympathize with the otherwise terrible, revolting Lester family.
The Lesters are figures of fun throughout. Apparently, audiences of the day enjoyed laughing at them (otherwise the Broadway run of the play would not have been the long-running success it was). Go figure--Lil Abner was popular too.

It's true that Ford builds sympathy for his characters, especially the father, over the course of the film. But after providing them with a deus ex machina for their troubles, the film's ending makes it clear that they will squander their reprieve. At which point, presumably, audiences of the day were supposed to slap their sides and shout, "Dog my cats! Once a cracker, always a cracker!"


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PostPosted: Wed May 14, 2014 10:47 am 
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Knives, I want to be sure that I’m entirely understanding your point. What do you consider the message of the film to be (or what message do you see the film attempting to get across)? I’m confused by what you mean when you write “benefit of futility.” When you say the Lesters are “soft” are you agreeing with Jack Phillips that they are “figures of fun throughout ” and not portrayed enough as vile beings?

Sorry to belabor this discussion, I just want to make sure that we’re on the same wavelength. It’s important to note that I have not seen Boudu (though I’ve been gradually prepping for a Renoir retrospective, so that will definitely be corrected soon) or any theatrical productions of Tobacco Road.


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PostPosted: Wed May 14, 2014 3:53 pm 
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I feel the message the film is aiming for, and what that quote seems to support, is that these are terrible people unable or unwilling to be like the Joads and work for their own benefit. In modern terms I suppose they're supposed to be a textbook example of 'welfare queens' (god I hate myself for writing that). Yet, and this is something I support, we should give them that charity of public welfare anyways. It, like Boudu and Viridianna if that is a more familiar point of reference, seems to believe that charity in which the receiver does not have to conform to societies ideals and is given only because it is the right thing to do is the real charity. That's what I meant by benefit of futility. Ford attempts it in a less caustic way then those two which I appreciate, but to accomplish that he also reduces the vile nature of the Lesters. So to answer the first paragraph I don't think they are vile enough and instead the film treats them as harmless clowns.


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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2014 10:33 am 
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That makes perfect sense to me. Everything I've written about the film is based on memories of memories from the single time I watched it a few years back. Your take on the Lesters is interesting to me because it’s very different from how I remember them being a plainly wretched bunch. I suppose I’ll have to add this one to the re-watch pile.


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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2014 11:30 pm 
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Watched "Tobacco Road" -- and have a seriously boggled mind. Definitely an uneven tone. Parts I felt a bit guilty laughing at -- seems like a precursor of both Beverly Hillbillies AND Dukes of Hazzard. Other parts had a serious undertone. And it really is often visually quite striking. Not on the level of Viridiana, but maybe Susana.


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PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 12:00 am 

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Michael Kerpan wrote:
seems like a precursor of both Beverly Hillbillies AND Dukes of Hazzard.
To say nothing of God's Little Acre.


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PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 12:11 am 
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It seems like Ford drew on Murnau (City Girl), Renoir (Boudu) ... and Laurel & Hardy (among others) for Tobacco Road.

It also seems to prefigure Monty Python at times -- particularly in the sequences in which everyone in the scene winds up singing along with Sister Bessie.


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PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 12:49 am 
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William Tracy's laugh are the fire-cracklings of Hell.

It's my understanding that the original novel is not played for comedy. Maybe if Ford hadn't just come off Grapes he could have done something interesting there...


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PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 8:10 am 
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Erskine Caldwell's novel is totally downbeat -- seems more grotesque in a lot of ways than Ford's movie (but not in a comic fashion).


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PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 11:24 am 
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Jack Phillips wrote:
Michael Kerpan wrote:
seems like a precursor of both Beverly Hillbillies AND Dukes of Hazzard.
To say nothing of God's Little Acre.

There seems to be quite a venerable 'moonshining' genre. In 1958 Robert Mitchum starred in Thunder Road, about a Korean war veteran coming back to take over his family moonshining business. In 1975 his son James Mitchum starred in Moonrunners, which the Dukes of Hazzard TV series was apparently inspired by (There is an interesting story related on one of the commentary tracks in the 42nd Street Forever compilation disc on which the Moonrunners trailer appears that when Dukes of Hazzard was remade in 2005 the studio forgot to credit this earlier film for providing the inspiration for the series, and they apparently had to pay out a hefty sum of money for the rights having made that mistake!)


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PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 2:43 pm 

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Michael Kerpan wrote:
Erskine Caldwell's novel is totally downbeat -- seems more grotesque in a lot of ways than Ford's movie (but not in a comic fashion).
The more significant work in the line of transmission is the stage play adapted by Jack Kirkland which opened on Broadway in 1933 and was still going strong when the Ford film (released 1941) went into production. At the time, Tobacco Road was the longest running play in history (and today remains, according to Wikipedia, the second-longest running non-musical), and its success was clearly the impetus for the film. Like the novel, the play was pretty downbeat--the old man's wife is hit and killed by Dude's car, for example, Pearl's escape from Lov is full of pathos, and even "sexy" Ellie May has a harelip. Nunnally Johnson's screenplay dropped all these negative elements and recast the piece as mainstream entertainment. The consequences are with us to this day.


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PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 3:19 pm 
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Bessie also had a nasal deformity (making it look like she had a pig nose) -- at least in the book.

Frankly, while Ford's version is odd, I suspect it is more intriguing than a straightforward adaptation would have been. I think like (overall) the "absurdist" aspect of the film (but obviously no HGWMV).


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 11, 2014 7:43 pm 
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 11, 2014 7:54 pm 
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Hahaha. Well, how else would you market that film? :lol:


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:06 pm 
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It's almost like Imamura had a hand in directing (time traveling to the past) Ford's adaptation of Tobacco Road.


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