A charging train dissolves to a soundstage evocation of mossy oaks and rickety fences and at once you recognize Faulkner's "long still hot weary dead" sundown, to say nothing of Elia Kazan's Deep South in Baby Doll and Wild River. The dainty gazelle at the dusty crossroads is the simmering axis of the portrait of antebellum segregation, she's the biracial belle (Jeanne Crain) back from nursing school and getting painfully reacquainted with bigotry. Home is a backwater shack encircled by clotheslines and with pious owlish granny (Ethel Waters) bent over a laundry cauldron, in the distance is the crumbling mansion, "slave-built, slave-run, rundown," a childhood incident not forgotten ties the dowager expiring inside (Ethel Barrymore) to the heroine. (Bresson two years later reuses the slim, uniformed figure's nightfall stride toward the manor in Journal d'un Curé de Campagne.) The blade in the stocking and the testament contested in court, mere steps in the divided consciousness' pursuit of wholeness: "Prove you're addicted to the truth, like you pretend." The film's own internal struggle rests between a tidy Zanuck social tract and a more raw Kazan exploration—Frederick O'Neal's rascally magnetism and a ferocious flash of Nina Mae McKinney attest to the latter's touch, much like the knotted tribunal bespeaks Ford's groundwork. Reactionary hicks maintain the divide yet liberalism is a squeamish Boston doctor (William Lundigan), the lass must go at it by herself. "Let's try to face it like rational people." "What's rational about prejudice?" The close of Kazan's novice period, condescended by subsequent reviewers though thankfully not by Altman, who remembers it pointedly in Cookie's Fortune. With Evelyn Varden, Basil Ruysdael, Kenny Washington, and Griff Barnett.
--- Fernando F. Croce