Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1929. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Scenario by Wanda Tuchock,treatment by Richard Schayer, dialogue by Ransom Rideout, story by King Vidor. Cinematography by Gordon Avil. Produced by King Vidor. Music by Eva Jessye. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Henrietta Frazer. Film Editing by Hugh Wynn. Academy Awards 1929/1930.
Director King Vidor put up his own salary to get MGM to produce the first studio production featuring an all-black cast, and thanks to his marvelous script and fantastic direction, it is still a powerful and rich film experience. The story revolves around a cotton-picking family who lose their son to gambling until he turns to the word of the Lord and becomes a famous preacher in order to save his soul. The woman who once ruined him in the gambling hall, however, isn’t far behind, and soon he finds himself tempted to the wide open path of the devil once more. At a time when most movie musicals took place in Broadway theatres or were simply song revues without a discernible plot, Vidor created a record of a culture where the music takes place front and centre in daily life, whether breaking out into a nightly lullaby or singing a gorgeous song on a break during their work day. Most of the music is traditional, but MGM also forced Vidor to include two Irving Berlin songs which actually don’t stick out as much as he feared they would. Great acting for an early talkie, and wonderful camera work (particularly the climactic chase through a shadowy swamp).