07 June 2009

Give Us This Day...

The Great Depression spawned a lot of terrific films about the Great depression. So all encompassing was the economic crisis that gripped the nation in the 1930's that it quite naturally insinuated itself into all forms of American culture.

Last Fall I wrote a post entitled 12 Movies From the Last Depression to Help You Get Through the Next Depression. I'd really only scratched the surface. One of the more glaring omissions was Our Daily Bread (1934). It's exclusion was excusable as I'd never seen this fine film. Last month I caught it at the Pacific Film Archives here in Berkeley and watched it again this week on TCM.

Like a lot of Depression Era films, Our Daily Bread has a decidedly anti establishment message and endorses a collectivist solution to the ongoing crisis. A typical city dwelling married couple faces eviction and dwindling resources when an uncle offers them a use of a farm and the surrounding land.

It's a fixer upper to say the least but with good ole American can-do spirit John and Molly Sims (played by Tom Keene and Karen Morley) tackle the seemingly impossible task of creating a going concern out of the decrepit property. The task seems overwhelming until a farmer (John Qualen) and his family happen by. They've been dispossessed from their farm and are heading to California. They lend the Sims a hand. The Sims' hit on the idea of inviting them to stay and finding others who are out of work to share in the work and the profits. Out of work people looking for something, anything, to feed their families and their self respect, come in droves.

It is an eclectic group featuring carpenters, violin teachers, bricklayers and even n escaped con who ends up being a hero. A community springs up over night with ramshackle houses but a rock solid determination to make a success of the farm. everyone will work, and everyone will eat and everyone will share in the profits or losses as the case may be.

Mr. Sims ends up being diverted from the task when a woman of questionable morals joins their company and he falls for her feminine wiles. You'll have to see the film for yourself to find out whether he does right by his devoted wife and the community he leads.

The greatest threat to the community comes form Mother Nature in the form of a drought that threatens to wipe out their crops. A do or die plan is hatched that will require everyone to pull together in a desperate effort to turn disaster into success.

Not surprisingly, director King Vidor could not get backing for the film from his studio, MGM. No one else was interested in the story either so he had to go into debt to finance the film. The radical message of sharing the wealth undoubtedly rubbed profit hungry capitalistic studio heads the wrong way.

Our Daily Bread could likely be viewed by conservatives of any time period as subversive. It advocates the principle, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Espoused by Marx, and I don't mean Groucho. Marxism spawned some of the worst regimes of the 20th century (see Stalin, Joe). But a few of its basic tenets are simply calls for the good old playground practice of sharing in lieu of avaricious greed.

In a capitalistic society in which greed runs rampant without government regulations a heavy price is paid by the working class, witness the USA today. Our daily Bread is one of the many calls from the Great Depression for people to set aside the notions of profit at all costs and instead work together.

Good idea.

Good film.

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