With the calendar turning to September, I've suddenly realized I need to get going on my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2016!
I saw one film on the list, SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932), at the TCM Classic Film Festival and loved it. I haven't yet written about it here at length as I wanted to revisit it on DVD first to refresh my memory; some things blur when you see 15 movies in three and a half days! I recently obtained the DVD and plan to watch it again soon.
My 10 Classics lists have helped push me to fill in some unseen films directed by John Ford, and this is one of them! JUDGE PRIEST also gave me the opportunity to see more of Will Rogers' work; I believe the only previous Rogers film I've seen was Ford's STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND (1935) a couple of years ago. I have several other Rogers films in my collection which I hope to start exploring before long.
Rogers plays the title character, an unorthodox jurist if ever there was one; for instance, when Jeff Poindexter (Stepin Fetchit) is accused of being a chicken thief, he ends up being the kindly judge's constant companion.
Rome's mother (Brenda Fowler) looks askance on Ellie May, as her "people" are unknown, and prefers that Rome court a senator's daughter (Rochelle Hudson). Rome's mother is no match for true love, however...and Ellie May's father will soon be revealed in a surprising way.
This film is quintessential Ford, a look at a community in general and one man in particular, mixing comedy and tears as only Ford can do.
SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949). It's quite touching, especially the scene where the lonely judge looks at a photograph of his family; it's sentimental yet not overdone.
Other scenes are quite funny, including a scene where the judge scares off the nasty barber (Frank Melton) from courting Ellie May by having a "conversation" in which he imitates the voice of Jeff (Fetchit).
There's a wonderful role for Hattie McDaniel as the judge's singing housekeeper; the moment when the judge joins her in singing might be my favorite scene in the movie. There's also an excellent performance by Henry Walthall as the local Episcopal priest.
DEATH ON THE DIAMOND), who passed away at the age of 56 the year after the movie's release. (In fact, I would add that Will Rogers also passed away in 1935.) He says little in the film in his role as Rome's first client, but his expressive face and presence give the film a poignancy it would not otherwise have.
Unfortunately, in today's world I think some people react so reflexively to things such as the Confederate flag or the Stepin Fetchit characterization, without regard to the context of either the time the film was made or the world it depicts, that they may be unable to appreciate the great beauty and positive lessons to be found in this film. I hope I'm wrong about that.
JUDGE PRIEST was filmed by John Schneiderman. The supporting cast also includes Berton Churchill, Roger Imhof, and Charley Grapewin.
JUDGE PRIEST is available on DVD in the Ford at Fox Collection or the smaller John Ford's American Comedies Collection. It may be streamed via Amazon Instant Video. It also had a release on VHS.