THE SOUTHERNER (1945) B/W 91m dir: Jean Renoir
w/Zachary Scott, Betty Field, Beulah Bondi, Bunny Sunshine, Jay Gilpin, Percy Kilbride, Blanche Yurka, Charles Kemper, J. Carrol Naish, Norman Lloyd
From The Movie Guide: "A remarkably naturalistic portrayal of one family's struggle to start a farm in the South. With the coming of autumn, Scott, a man hardened by his years of working fields for other people, decides to work his own land on the advice of his dying uncle. He is given a plot of unused, out-of-the-way land and packs his wife, Field, and his children Sunshine and Gilpin, grandmother Bondi, a dog, and all of their possessions onto a beat-up truck. What they find is a plot of unkempt, though workable, land and a dilapidated shanty that isn't fit for animals. The family gets settled in, fix the front porch, put a fire in the stove, and do their best to make the space livable. When Scott realizes the well doesn't work, he pays a visit to the neighboring farm which, after years of toiling, has become what Scott hopes his will be. The farm belongs to Naish, an embittered man who cannot appreciate the success of his hard work without thinking about how it caused the deaths of his wife and child. Naish is less than hospitable and only reluctantly agrees to let Scott use his well on the condition that Scott supply a new rope when the old one wears thin. As time passes and winter arrives, Scott and his family plow the land and ready it for a cotton crop. ...
"THE SOUTHERNER, Renoir's most critically respected American film, is a superb depiction, in spirit if not in historical authenticity, of the plight of the farmer. The southerner of the title is not only the heroic Scott, but also the angry Naish (who, like all Renoir's 'evil' characters, has his reasons for being so), the obstinate grandmother, and the unbreakable Field. As with such great pictures as OUR DAILY BREAD, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and the brilliant government documentaries of Pare Lorentz to which THE SOUTHERNER is most similar (PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS and THE RIVER), this picture makes characters of the land, the cotton, the plow, and the water, granting them the same importance as the actors. In THE SOUTHERNER, man is just another element which makes up the whole of the natural world; he is not in control of the divine elements but subject to them. With the original Hugo Butler script (he later dropped out of the production, in reverence to Renoir who, Butler felt, could rewrite the script however he pleased) of the [George Sessions] Perry novel Hold Autumn in Your Hand, Renoir and his producers, [David L.] Lowe and [Robert] Hakim, were able to convince Hollywood to make their film.
"Not surprisingly, Renoir, a native of France who had only been in the US since 1940, found it difficult to fully capture the dialogue and dialect of the southern people. Nunnally Johnson, who had scripted THE GRAPES OF WRATH, was first brought in, followed by William Faulkner (both received no screen credit). who that year also had a hand in THE MALTESE FALCON and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. Faulkner, who had known Renoir since the director's first American film, SWAMP WATER, and felt he was the greatest contemporary director, would later remark that working on THE SOUTHERNER had given him more pleasure than any other Hollywood production."
THE SOUTHERNER was nominated for three Oscars: Best Director, Score (Werner Janssen), and Sound (Jack Whitney).