Our Daily Bread (King Vidor / U.S., 1934):

King Vidor's Angelus, as it were, with elemental triumphs as spacious and limpid as Millet's. The big city hasn't really improved since The Crowd, an ukulele will only get you scrawny poultry at the butcher shop; the Sims (Tom Keene, Karen Morley) hop on the back-to-the-land wagon and settle on a dilapidated farm, but the agit-prop pamphlet has enough room to render the intimacy and apprehension of a couple's first night at their new home. A "community where money isn't important" is the dream, visitors join the struggle and soon some sort of structure is needed -- both extremes of government are proposed and rejected, "one common pot" is the co-op answer. Trading keeps their cosmos self-sufficient, the down-home surrealism of automobiles pulling plows through vast fields segues into the severities of the drought; the tight-lipped tractor driver (Addison Richards) has a shady past and sacrifices himself for reward money, then returns as an apparition in the protagonist's moment of doubt. The narrative is staged outside of Hollywood yet Hollywood comes knocking all the same in the shape of a platinum Jezebel (Barbara Pepper), whose provocative urban jauntiness threatens to unsettle Keene's agrarian diligence. More than Solomon and Sheba, this is Vidor's bracing telling of the gospels, where getting your hands in the dirt is a matter of temptation and conviction, and where what feels like a fever is truly the height of lucidity. (Behind it are Dovzhenko's Earth and Murnau's City Girl, ahead are Le Crime de M. Lange and Ray's Distant Thunder.) "American" in the greatest sense of the word, the film scans the troubled horizon and voices a solution in John Qualen's immigrant accent: "Go get your shovel." What follows is pure and sustained cinema as the stream is linked to the thirsty field -- Vidor himself is there as the irrigation canal is inaugurated, water cascades through a striking montage (one man pushes a boulder out of the deluge's way, another uses his body to prevent it from spilling out of the canal) and finally reaches a lovely vision of alternative America. With Henry Hall, Lloyd Ingraham, Sidney Bracey, Nellie V. Nichols, Frank Minor, and Harry Brown. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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