God's Little Acre (film)
|God's Little Acre|
|Directed by||Anthony Mann|
|Produced by||Sidney Harmon|
|Screenplay by||Philip Yordan
Ben Maddow (uncredited)
|Based on||the novel by Erskine Caldwell|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Cinematography||Ernest Haller A.S.C.|
|Edited by||Richard C. Meyer|
Security Pictures, Inc.
An Anthony Mann Production
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|August 13, 1958|
God's Little Acre is a 1958 American film of Erskine Caldwell's 1933 novel of the same name. It was directed by Anthony Mann and shot in black and white by cinematographer Ernest Haller. Although the film was not released until August 1958, its production schedule is indicated as September 11 to late October 1957.
The film was as controversial as the novel, although unlike its source material there was no prosecution for obscenity. Though both book and film were laced throughout with racy innuendo calling into question the issue of marital fidelity, it was the film adaptation that may have been the more alarming, inasmuch as it portrayed a popular uprising, or workers' insurrection, in the southern United States by laid-off millworkers trying to gain control of the factory equipment on which their jobs depended.
Philip Yordan was officially given credit for the screenplay, but it was actually by Ben Maddow. Since Maddow was blacklisted for his radical, and suspected, but unproven, Communist activities during the 1950s Red Scare, working without credit was the only way he could successfully submit screenplays. When it was first released, audiences under eighteen years of age were prohibited from viewing what were perceived to be numerous sexy scenes throughout, though in recent decades the film's scandalous reputation has diminished. After decades of neglect, the film was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive under the supervision of master restorer Robert Gitt. As part of Gitt's restoration, Yordan's name was replaced by Maddow's in the main title roll.
Widower Ty Ty Walden (Robert Ryan) and his two daughters live in the backwoods of Georgia during the Great Depression (although the film appears to be set in the 1950s, since many of the cars are 1950s vintage). While Ty Ty searches for gold on his farm, his son-in-law Will (Aldo Ray) cheats on his wife Rosamund (Helen Westcott) with Griselda (Tina Louise). Ty Ty has been digging for gold on his land for 15 years. Pluto Swint (Buddy Hackett) arrives to announce he's running for sheriff. Swint is invited to come around back where Darlin' Jill (Fay Spain) is taking a bath in an outdoor bathtub positioned near a handpump and spigot. She asks him to pump some more water (the camera never dips lower than the top of the tub). Asked to keep his eyes closed, he sneaks a pleasurable peek.
Ty Ty spends most of his time digging holes, constantly searching for the treasure his grandfather left him. Consequently, the farm has suffered from years of neglect. He could have turned a profit any time by buying and planting seed in the fields, but he thinks the gold is just another dig away. The seductive lure of easy gold a mere shovel or two away is actually leading him to squander his inheritance. If his real treasure lies in his daughters, the viewer is invited to gauge the depth of that genealogical reserve, inasmuch as Darlin' Jill appears to be a woman of equally easy morals.
In the belief that having an albino with him in his quest for treasure will bring him great fortune, Ty Ty transports and wrongfully imprisons Dave Dawson (Michael Landon), a man with white hair and pink eyes, demanding that he help him locate the buried treasure. Ty Ty reasons that it is not actually wrongful detainment, because at any time the albino could lead him to the treasure, thereby earning his release. In anticipation of a potential find he changes the location of a plot of land allocated to the church in a tithing relationship (known as God's Little Acre, hence the title), in order to keep any gold found there for himself.
He moves the plot's marker, a large, ramshackle cross, to the side of the house, but lo and behold that is exactly where the divining rod in the hands of the albino comes to rest, supposedly indicating where the gold is buried. However, seeing that the divining rod was pulling the albino towards the side of the house, Ty Ty had again pulled the marker out of the ground explaining that God told him to move it, thereby absolving him from giving any gold found in this new spot to the church. He replants the marker farther away on the edge of a pond for it "to be cooler". In the middle of the night Will leaves his house, followed by Griselda. He breaks open the mill's gates and enters the property. At first she distracts him from his purpose and they kiss. He then escorts her back to the gates and asks the growing (but in the film relatively silent) crowd to restrain her. He reenters and turns on the power, and the machines reactivate to the cheers of the crowd.
Hearing the rioters' assembly and the mill's power turned on, the caretaker comes from an inside office and shoots Will for trespassing. He staggers outside and the crowd's cheers turn to silence. They carry his body back to his house. Griselda enters to tell Rosamund the bad news, but the other cries out that she already knows what has happened. Implicitly, at this point the tide in the county elections turns irreversibly. The populist Pluto Swint is elected sheriff, replacing the incumbent. The Walden family squabble after Will's funeral, particularly over Griselda's actions at the mill, and the numerous affections which she attracts from the other sons. The family decides to give up searching for the gold. The film ends with the family contentedly plowing for the first time in years. Ty Ty finds the blade of an old shovel in the ground, and speculates about whether the gold might lie in that spot. As he begins digging again, the camera pans to the pond and the final resting place of the marker for God's Little Acre.
Copyright registration and renewal
God's Little Acre was registered (LP 10695) for copyright 9 May 1958 by Security Pictures, Inc. as copyright owner and renewed under RE 304-495 25 September 1986 by MPH Films as proprietor of copyright in a work made for hire. The black and white version is Public Domain, the colorized version is Copyright.
- Variety film review; May 14, 1958, page 6.
- Harrison's Reports film review; May 17, 1958, page 78.
- Filmfacts (1958), p. 123
- God's Little Acre at the American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films
- Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain (1950-1959), page 128.
- Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain (1950-1959), page 609.
- "Public Domain Trouble Spots". Copyright Overview. Stanford University. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
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