A twisty, humorous antithesis to the usual Fordian style of family bonding, TOBACCO ROAD is a beautifully photographed examination of life among the "poor white trash" of Georgia's Tobacco Road area during the Depression. One of three Nunnally Johnson-scripted Ford films--following the
PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND and THE GRAPES OF WRATH--TOBACCO ROAD takes the long-running Kirkland play, which opened in 1933 and was based on the popular Caldwell novel, and turns it into a strangely distorted story of individualism and integrity. The film opens with the apocalyptic statement, "All
that they were, and all that they had, is gone with the wind and the dust," establishing a somber tone for this character study of man battered by the elements. But Ford, not to be easily pigeon-holed, plays much of the film for laughs. Cast as husband and wife, Grapewin and Patterson do their
best to hold their family together while struggling to pay the bills. Grandmother Tilbury just gets up and leaves one day, walking into the forest, presumably to die, and is never seen again. Tracy, the rambunctious son, is more concerned with buying a car, blowing its horn, and making a wreck of
it after one day than he is with helping his father in daily affairs. It is this car, however, that brings the family together in admiration of its design. The unity, however, is short-lived.
A masterful combination of Ford's pictorial skills and Johnson's character sketches (which also can be seen in the classic Jean Renoir portrait of the South, THE SOUTHERNER, to which Johnson and William Faulkner contributed), TOBACCO ROAD is an oddity in Ford's filmography, which is full of
movies that celebrate family values, the love of the land, the work ethic, and honesty. In this film, however, these qualities are parodied, and the result, while unorthodox, is highly enjoyable, making TOBACCO ROAD perhaps Ford's most underrated achievement. Photographed by Arthur C. Miller, the
man responsible for the breathtaking visuals of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (for which he won an Oscar), TOBACCO ROAD is, if nothing else, a marvel to look at.
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- Review: A twisty, humorous antithesis to the usual Fordian style of family bonding, TOBACCO ROAD is a beautifully photographed examination of life among the "poor white trash" of Georgia's Tobacco Road area during the Depression. One of three Nunnally Johnson-scri… (more)