Copyright 10 August 1945 by Loew-Hakim, Inc. Presented by Producing Artists, Inc. Released through United Artists. New York opening at the Globe: 25 August 1945. U.S. release: 18 May 1945 (sic). No fixed U.K. release. Australian release: 13 June 1946. 8,287 feet. 91 minutes. (Available on a very good VCI DVD).
SYNOPSIS: Sick of working for others, a young farm-hand attempts to go it alone. He moves his family to a derelict shack on an idle farm, but his cotton crop is ruined by a flood.
NOTES: Nominated for the following prestigious Hollywood awards: Directing, Jean Renoir (won by Billy Wilder for Lost Weekend); Music Scoring of a Drama or Comedy (won by Miklos Rozsa for Spellbound); Sound Recording, Jack Whitney and General Service Co. (won by Stephen Dunn for The Bells of Saint Mary's).
The film did not make Bosley Crowther's New York Times Ten Best, but it did gain a place in his long supplementary list of "mentionables".
Jean Renoir for The Southerner: Best Director of 1945 — National Board of Review.
The Southerner placed number three on the National Board of Review's "Ten Best" (after The True Glory and Lost Weekend).
COMMENT: Beautifully photographed in starkly realistic natural settings, this is an inspiring if somewhat downbeat account of share-cropping in the dusty south. Although they are still recognizably Hollywood types, Zachary Scott and Betty Field are convincing enough as the bedeviled farmers. However they do tend to leave the running to the support players, particularly J. Carrol Naish (who has one of his best roles ever as an embittered, mean- spirited neighbor); Norman Lloyd as a bizarrely vicious half-wit; Noreen Nash as a kindly if vamping sympathizer; silent star Estelle Taylor (making her first movie appearance since 1932) as an opportunistic bar-fly; Nestor Paiva as a thief-thug of a barman; and of course Percy Kilbride in his element as the local storekeeper.
I thought that Beulah Bondi, despite her faultless make-up, tended to over-do the selfishly ever-complaining nanny, and that the kids were just a little too squeakily clean, if otherwise perfectly natural.
It can been seen that this is no dull quasi-documentary, but a richly characterized tapestry of Southern living. Packed with incident too. (Perhaps a little too over-weighted with thrills for complete realism, but I'm not complaining).
The producers seem to have taken astute advantage of a natural disaster to film the flood scenes (good to see that no stock or newsreel footage at all has been used) which are fascinating yet terrifying to behold. Man-made incidents are not wanting either as Scott and Kemper systematically wreck Paiva's bar, and as Scott fights with the mercilessly bullying Naish.
Superlatively yet unobtrusively crafted in all departments, The Southerner is an unusual yet highly compelling drama about "ordinary folks", with characters and settings well away from the usual Hollywood clichés.
Indeed, so realistic is the background, it comes as something of a surprise to learn from Renoir's autobiography that the movie was actually photographed in a cotton field "not far from the small town of Madera, California, on the bank of the San Joaquin River. The situation was ideal. All that was needed was for Lourie to build a tumbledown shack and for the shooting to take place while the cotton was in flower."