Monday, December 17, 2001


This movie can't seem to make up its mind whether it's an overheated Southern melodrama with liberal doses of sex appeal or a stodgy story about the problems between labor and management on plantations. Bette Davis does her darndest to keep the sex quotient high, but Richard Barthelmess (with some help from an undistinguished screenplay) keeps dragging it back to earth.

Marvin (Barthelmess) is the son of a dirt-poor sharecropper who wants to better himself through education. For his own reasons, the rich landowner takes Barthelmess in, educates him, and gives him a job. For most of the movie, Marvin is torn between the farmers and the owners. Both sides resort to immoral or illegal acts to get what they think is owed to them and Marvin winds up being the quasi-Marxist voice of reason who tries to reconcile the tenant farmers and the land owners. Marvin is also torn between two women: Dorothy Jordan as the poor girl and Bette Davis as the rich daughter of the land owner.

Davis is great, oozing a casual sex appeal throughout. Barthelmess, who was at the tail end of his career, is wooden; his reaction to being seduced on a lazy Sunday afternoon by a nearly-naked Davis is about the same as his reaction to his father's death: he looks like a deer caught in headlights. To be fair, Barthelmess was way too old for the part--he was almost 40, playing a lad in his early 20's--but he is the biggest problem with the film. Jordan (who would, in 1933, marry Merian Cooper, the co-director of King Kong) is awfully drab and passive. In the end, it's unclear who Barthelmess will pair up with; I'm sure we're supposed to assume the poor girl will win his love, but I was left hoping that Davis would rope him in. The plantation and farm sets are nicely atmospheric. Overall, definitely worth watching, especially if you're a Bette Davis fan.

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