God's Little Acre (1958):

The title is a balladeer's spiritual performed over a bucolic widescreen composition (trees and sky reflected in a musty stream), the camera tracks left and cranes up to spot the Walden home, pockmarked with excavations. Robert Ryan is the cracked plantation Lear in full battle with his environment, "strictly scientific" yet holding private chats with God in search for his granddad's buried treasure -- the most shambling of Anthony Mann's imploding patriarchs, transplanting the obsession from Western to rustic comedy (see Man of the West that same year for a virtual remake). Jack Lord and Vic Morrow are stuck digging for gold as Ryan's sons, daughter Fay Spain plays horny Ellie Mae to the young albino (Michael Landon) shanghaied from swamp to farm "for luck"; Buddy Hackett drops by for a shovelful of dirt in the face, then gives a flash of the fury underneath the clowning while tearing into watermelon and declaring his courting intentions. At the center is Tina Louise, groped, pawed, and squeezed as Lord's wife, reaching for beefcakey brother-in-law Aldo Ray under the full moon -- their combustible attraction is finally consumed inside the dormant cotton mill, a reminder, like Hackett thrusting at the water pump before stumbling face first into Spain's bathtub, that this is actually a "lusty" work about impotence. The material is randy-seedy-earthy Americana, the spaciousness of nature and the tensions of family: Tobacco Road lent it a vast comic treatment, Hud would drain its juice via drab "realism," Mann draws out its intensity till the weight of the Old Testament is brought onto Ryan's scarecrow shoulders. The ending lauds the hope to "stop diggin', start farmin'," then opens up a crack for the raging drives locked behind the harmony of the Garden. With Helen Wescott, Lance Fuller, Rex Ingram, and Russell Collins. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home