Take 3: Three reviews of the same movie, by three reviewers: Gloria, Lindsay and Dave.
Our Daily Bread
(1934, USA) starring Tom Keene (the heroic but sometimes conflicted husband), Karen Morley (the very good wife), Barbara Pepper (the hussy), and John Qualen (the unflappable Swede); directed by King Vidor; scenario by Elizabeth Hill; dialog by Joseph Mankiewicz; music by Alfred Newman.
The story: It’s the Depression, and married city dwellers John and Mary Sims are struggling. John cannot find work, but he and his wife are given a chance by a friendly relative: a dilapidated farm. Not having the slightest clue about farming, they gradually enlist the help of other down-and-out families, few of whom have ever worked the land. Gradually, they begin to build their own society, not without its pitfalls and challenges.
– – –
Take 1: Gloria
Without work, without a chicken, and without anything else for the pawnshop, Mary and John Sims head to country after their uncle points them to an abandoned farm and says it’s time to get back to the land. Once these urban dwellers get there, however, they’re predictably stumped. Now what do they do?
Instead of a Green Acres scenario developing, they decide to pull together a tribe of other down-on-their-luckers by staking a series of posters, Burma-shave style, on the side of the road. OUT OF WORK? HAVE A SKILL? TURN HERE.
In no time, they have a collection of people with assorted trades and talents, all ready–most of them, at least–to roll up their sleeves and plant some crops. (Apparently, from other reviews, they are going for a “Gallafentian-style commune,” although I’m not sure at all what that is. In their first town hall meeting, they vote down democracy and socialism and agree that they need “a big boss.” John gets the job as benevolent leader. Did Mr. Gallafent believe in the “big boss” commune?)
Good will and cooperation are in abundance, but when trouble arises, they come up with solutions–some supportive and kind–and, sometimes, well, it’s OK to threaten to rope up the rich guys who might outbid them when the farm comes up for auction. Bad people do the right things–a convict on the run turns himself in so they can collect his bounty. And bad people do bad things.
John’s moral compass gets swayed a bit by a drought and a dame. (When the peroxided floozie is warned to stay away from John, she says, in one of film’s greatest lines ever, “My gosh. Ain’t you anticipatory?”) John struggles and almost gives up on his marriage and the farm, but he’s a better man than that…and smart too.
He rallies the collective to build an irrigation ditch to save the crops, and the hypnotic and passionate closing minutes of picking and digging and chopping are really fun and exhilarating to watch. How can you not be happy when their efforts prevail and there is dancing in the mud?
OUR DAILY BREAD is a good, uplifting story–and a perfect little morsel for Thanksgiving.
– – –
Take 2: Lindsay
DIRECTOR KING VIDOR put up his own money to make this movie because MGM wanted nothing to do with this film. The studio must not have liked the story: poor, Depression-era people find a way to survive and prosper by forming a commune. It is a heartfelt, if clumsily executed, movie with a great final scene.
The plot: a young married couple about to be evicted from their New York apartment are given some farmland in the Midwest. The uncle who makes this gift says that the land is worthless both to him and to the bank; therefore, they can have it. The couple try to make a go of farming. They would have failed on their own, but other out-of-work people join them, each with a skill to contribute. Hard work is a constant. People barter their skills, and what money there is seems to belong to all of them.
Almost exactly halfway through the movie a floozie wanders in from another movie. She causes trouble, but not too much.
The last 10-15 minutes of the movie are about digging a trench to bring water to the commune’s thirsty and dying crops. The scene is powerful. You’ll be cheering for these people who shared their strength and won.
– – –
Take 3: Dave
I SAW INTERSTELLAR, in IMAX, recently. How does that fact pertain to my review of a 1934 feature titled, Our Daily Bread, which I enjoyed more? A good question; I’m glad you asked.
Christopher Nolan’s mega-budget film begins on a ramshackle farm surrounded by dusty, arid land, in the near future, with a despondent but very devoted male and female in dire straits. Food is scarce; their world is falling apart, and it’s getting worse. Dust storms threaten humanity. But an older gentlemen gives them hope, albeit not quite what they expected. There are many risks involved. Not knowing what exactly they’ll find, or what they’ll do with it once they’re there, the offer is accepted and the journey taken.
In King Vidor’s Our Daily Bread, set in the near past (the Depression), a very cute and loving husband and wife couple, John and Mary Sims, have next to nothing. Food is scarce; their world is falling apart, and it’s getting worse. Bill collectors–like the deadly dust in Interstellar–are at their door. At rope’s end, an older gentlemen calls. He can’t give them what they want (a job or money) but he does offer them hope—hope in the form of a ramshackle farmhouse surrounded by dusty, arid land. Not knowing what exactly they’ll find, or what they’ll do with it once they’re there, the cheerful couple accept, and take the journey.
Will any of these people from either film survive their new worlds and make a go of it?
In John and Mary Sims’ case, with no real guidance they do the best they can. Soon they realize that, unless they can increase their numbers, and form a cooperative society, it isn’t going to work.
But the ultimate key to success and survival in both movies involves a simple matter: Getting back to the earth, or, in Interstellar, to the Earth.
Our Daily Bread’s story plays as much as a sort of Dust Bowl-era documentary as it does a drama. “Inspired by today’s headlines,” the movie is sympathetic towards the plights of these impromptu farmers, only one of which has any sort of agricultural experience. (One would-be candidate is an undertaker, another a concert violinist.)
Although, through their combined efforts, this little society establishes a thriving community and abundant crops, things aren’t all rosy. There are droughts and neer-do-well characters, including a sheriff and, significantly, Sally—a blonde, Jean Harlow-ish gun moll (her “old man’s” dead in the car the two arrive in.) Sally’s asked (with more kindness than she deserves) by Mary to please keep her charms away from John, but when she replies with, “John’s going with me“, it’s soon apparent, even though not made explicit, that John and Sally have been sharing more than their daily bread.
Yes, admittedly at some point, Vidor’s and Nolan’s films’s stories diverge, to put it mildly. But overall, and as strange as it may seem, I enjoyed Our Daily Bread more. Interstellar failed to focus on the intriguing premise it began with, and instead the story went off in a hundred different directions, becoming unnecessarily complex. The simplicity of Vidor’s film is its strength. There are no special effects. Those farmers really are digging a mile-long aqueduct to irrigate their land, so that they may all live. Staying alive and looking after their fellow man is what the movie is about, and it never strays from that. It’s not a classic, but it’s recommended, and you don’t have to see it in IMAX to appreciate its relevant theme.
And so: What becomes of our heroes in both films? As the farmer says as he looks at the crops John has planted, “Nothing to worry about—not when they’ve got the Earth.”
[Trivia note: Our Daily Bread made its premiere at Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition.]
Lindsay Edmunds blogs about robots, writing, life in southwestern Pennsylvania, and sometimes books and movies at Writer’s Rest. She is the author of a novel about love in the age of artificial intelligence: Cel & Anna.
Dave is a city-dwelling, graphic designer and Chicago Blackhawks fan.
Gloria Bowman is a writer, storyteller, blogger, movie lover, freelance editor, and author of the novel, Human Slices. Access her blog at www.gloriabowman.com; on Twitter @GloriaBow.