Our Daily Bread (1934)
Genre: Drama Romance
Starring: Tom Keene (Plan 9 From Outer Space), Karen Morely (Mata Hari, Scarface (1932))
Directed By: King Vidor (The Big Parade, The Crowd)
Overview: During the depression, John accepts the task of taking over a deserted farm. John invites others to help work and develop a co-operative community.
Acting: It was a shame watching these actors play out these far too stereotypical roles. Be it the Swede, the Jews, the high-society flapper, the devout wife or John himself with all his highs and lows, I realized that this was a highly professional cast that somehow ended up acting like two-dimensional monkeys for King Vidor's pleasure. It's all very well done, but the direction suffered greatly.
Cinematography: Now that I'm aware of the clunky cameras used during the early talkies, I notice when cameras do something rare like a sideways pan, or a moving shot. It's interesting knowing why the shots are always static, and though many cinematographers made do, they were still very limited. It makes me wonder how long it took to set up that four-second shot of the weathervane, or that simple conversation by the fireplace. Once you're looking for it, you notice the lack of fluidity. I'm surprised films looked this good at all.
Script: this was written in such a way as to make me see these characters as archetypes and vehicles rather than people. Flapper Girl and all her hip lingo was the symbol of care-free civilization, tempting man to hedonism. The Swede with his accent was the farming expert, representing that which was foreign to the populace. John was the everyman, his wife the inspiration to go on... the examples are endless, and I guess I had a problem with seeing these people this way so obviously. Also the speeches sounded contrived, cliché and forced.
Plot: The story is really what makes this film. We have a well thought out idea of a man down on his luck trying to find work and he's given an opportunity to do that, but in a field (pardon the pun) he knows nothing about. Somehow his baby steps lead to more possibilities, and we have the beginnings of a story that shows an evolution of change from a deep depression in earth as well as in soul, towards a can-do, make-do attitude that works in theory but has a great adversary in fickle human character. I'm surprised I got the message so clearly, frankly.
Mood: 1934, when film was propagandist and people were either in musicals or acted like they should be. When I bought this, the seller was advertising "a depression-Era Grapes of Wrath". I'm afraid that movie, with corruption, loss and death, was far more honest than this one which is all "hard work will get you grain". Though it may be true, we have all these people out of which only one is actually a farmer, and somehow they manage to keep the operation relatively well-oiled, without a serious farming injury or great hardship, which would have made a huge difference for me had such a thing been included. It seemed so natural that I was expecting such a scene as rote, and I was surprised when nothing of the sort happened. Call me bleak that way.
Overall Rating: 66% (A Little Stale)
Aftertaste: I'm really starting to hate the Early Talkies, not because the films were bad, just because so much of the camera technology took leaps backwards, basically starting from scratch on account of sound recording. 1930-1935, so far has proven that less is more, and the Silents were the more tossed away in favour of a hipper fad focused on listening rather than watching.