MOVIE REVIEW: “Tobacco Road” (1941)

In celebration of our Star of the Month Gene Tierney, I will be reviewing Tobacco Road, one of Gene’s earliest endeavors into film, and one in which despite efforts to the contrary, her striking looks win out over all the makeup to make her look like a hillbilly, and she simply looks stunning as usual. The movie itself, though directed by the legendary John Ford, was NOT a hit, but it’s an interesting movie to watch, and I will give you some of my own personal opinions later on in the post.

First of all, let me say that I saw this movie for the first time when I was in Paris. For those of you who have been following Backlots for some time, you know that there are 2 classic movie theaters in Paris, the Action Cinema Rue Christine, and the Desperado (which, oddly, was Action Écoles when I got there, and the Desperado when I left. Go figure–I’ve given up trying to understand anything that goes on in Paris). Obviously, I was constantly at one of them, and I saw some really fantastic movies on the big screen, as they were meant to be shown. Tobacco Road was at the Rue Christine, and I had never seen it before.

The plot has to do with a poor family living on inherited land, and their struggles to stay afloat during tough economic times. The story was taken from a novel, but the plot of the novel was more about the dramas of the family, while this movie chooses to focus more on the comic relief.

In fact, I find the film absolutely hilarious. I mean really:

Charley Grapewin, as Jeeter Lester, had me laughing all the way through the movie, as did many of the other supporting characters. A particular favorite recurring theme of mine is Jeeter’s obsession with turnips.  Toward the beginning of the film there is a scuffle over a sack of turnips that is really very silly indeed. It is the at the height of randomness and zany surrealism, and that is my favorite kind of comedy.

Gene Tierney and Ward Bond in "Tobacco Road."

As for Gene Tierney, she was 20 years old when this film was made, and though her role as the shy Ellie May Lester was small, she was noticed for her beauty that seemed to be beyond her years.

I highly recommend this movie if you are looking for some good laughs. There is one scene, however, that shows the more somber side of the story, in which Jeeter weeps over the loss of his land. It is very artfully done, and I would go so far as to say it’s done in a style very typical of John Ford, in stark contrast to the rest of the lighthearted, fun movie.

I leave you with a particularly funny gag from the film, when Jeeter discovers electric lighting and how much fun it is to turn on and off lamps. Thanks for reading!

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2 responses to “MOVIE REVIEW: “Tobacco Road” (1941)

  1. The actual book by Erskine Caldwell is truly disturbing. I’m not surprised that it was adapted so loosely into broad comedy, because any attempt to film the original story likely would have given the PCA heart palpitations. From what I can tell (I haven’t seen this movie–my memories of the book have always made me avoid it), the storyline of the film has very little to do with Caldwell’s version. It’s actually really funny to me that the undeniably gorgeous Gene Tierney was cast as Ellie May, because in the novel, that character has a cleft palate and is decidedly NOT gorgeous by any stretch of the imagination!

  2. I agree with Brandie! The book should be adapted into a ‘true’ screenplay and remade. I would certainly go see it if it wasn’t scrubbed of all of the interesting story points. I expected more from John Ford! Although it’s fun with it’s comedic scenes it should have been made true to the novel.
    A nice review! Glad you’re celebrating the lovely Tierney.

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