Tobacco Road (1941)

84 mins | Comedy-drama | 7 March 1941

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HISTORY

The following information about this production comes from the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, a 14 Jan 1941 studio press release and HR news items: Several studios expressed interest in acquiring the rights to Jack Kirkland's play and Erskine Caldwell's novel, both of which were popular, but also very controversial. On 5 Dec 1933, the night after its New York City opening, the play was attended by a PCA official, who reported, "this play contains about everything which would make it very objectionable as a motion picture." RKO, which may have been the first studio to acquire an option on the properties, was discouraged by the PCA from pursuing the project. According to a 3 Mar 1940 NYT news item, RKO had intended to purchase the play for Charles Laughton, who was to play "Jeeter." In 1939, Republic was informed by PCA official Joseph I. Breen: "The material, in our judgment, is definitely and specifically in violation of the Production Code and is, likewise, enormously dangerous from the standpoint of political censorship." Columbia was advised in Mar 1940 that the title Tobacco Road was on a list of banned titles because the play was "consistently considered unsuitable material." Warner Bros. also was interested in the properties and entered into negotiations with Kirkland, but apparently was discouraged by the PCA's intimation that the title would not be available for use.
       By Jul 1940, Twentieth Century-Fox had intensified its efforts to acquire the screen rights and was concerned that a ... More Less

The following information about this production comes from the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, a 14 Jan 1941 studio press release and HR news items: Several studios expressed interest in acquiring the rights to Jack Kirkland's play and Erskine Caldwell's novel, both of which were popular, but also very controversial. On 5 Dec 1933, the night after its New York City opening, the play was attended by a PCA official, who reported, "this play contains about everything which would make it very objectionable as a motion picture." RKO, which may have been the first studio to acquire an option on the properties, was discouraged by the PCA from pursuing the project. According to a 3 Mar 1940 NYT news item, RKO had intended to purchase the play for Charles Laughton, who was to play "Jeeter." In 1939, Republic was informed by PCA official Joseph I. Breen: "The material, in our judgment, is definitely and specifically in violation of the Production Code and is, likewise, enormously dangerous from the standpoint of political censorship." Columbia was advised in Mar 1940 that the title Tobacco Road was on a list of banned titles because the play was "consistently considered unsuitable material." Warner Bros. also was interested in the properties and entered into negotiations with Kirkland, but apparently was discouraged by the PCA's intimation that the title would not be available for use.
       By Jul 1940, Twentieth Century-Fox had intensified its efforts to acquire the screen rights and was concerned that a film based on the play would be banned in England, as the play had been. According to an 18 Aug 1940 NYT article, Twentieth Century-Fox's purchase of the play ended "seven months of bidding for the property, in which RKO was the chief competitor." The article speculated that the studio's success with The Grapes of Wrath "influenced the Hays office to sanction the purchase," and that it was "possible that Henry Hull, who created the role of Jeeter Lester on Broadway, [would] be borrowed from [M-G-M] to play the role on the screen." On 13 Oct 1940, NYT reported that Hull, Walter Brennan and "even" Henry Fonda were under consideration for the role of "Jeeter," and on 30 Oct 1940, HR stated that the picture was "slated for" Fonda. The studio settled the acquisition on 7 Nov 1940, and agreed to pay Kirkland $150,000 against a percentage of the gross receipts.
       In discussing a 6 Nov 1940 temporary script submitted by the studio, Breen warned that "many religious folk throughout the nation may be offended by the religious aspects." Breen advised the studio to "secure the counsel of an intelligent Protestant clergyman as to the likely reception of the picture, as now drafted, among church-going folks generally," and also cautioned against portraying the relationship between "Lov" and "Ellie May" as overtly sexual. While casting was in progress, which included testing Fred Stone for "one of the top roles," according to an Oct 1940 HR news item, the PCA continued to evaluate the submitted screenplays. In late Nov 1940, Francis S. Harmon, a PCA official from the South, who had written extensively on religious matters, wrote a memo to Breen outlining his concerns about the potential impact of the film's treatment of religion. Harmon concluded: "Most serious is the fact that the laughter in the theatres [provoked by the extreme religiosity of the characters] will give point to the charge that a Hollywood 'filled with Godless sophisticates,' 'foreigners,' and 'Jews' is capitalizing this opportunity to make fun of all religion and by disgusting moviegoers with this screen exposition of an admittedly superficial, highly emotionalized type of religion, is doing a disservice to all religion."
       In order to avoid any pre-judgment of the film's screenplay, the studio decided to film on location at Sherwood Forest, CA, rather than in Augusta, GA, as had been originally planned. The "poor farm" sequences were shot on location at Encino, CA. Marjorie Rambeau was borrowed from M-G-M for the production. Although a 9 Jan 1941 studio billing sheet includes Charles Waldron ( Mr. Lester ) and Charles Trowbridge ( Rector ) in the cast, they appeared only in a sequence that was cut from the film, in which "Jeeter" requests help from his son "Tom." The Var review listed the film's running time as 91 minutes, but this length is probably an error.
       Upon its release, the film encountered very few censorship problems, apart from being banned entirely in Australia for unspecified reasons, and was successful at the box office despite mixed reviews. A 6 Mar 1941 HR news item noted that the play's controversial nature may have helped the film in the end: " Tobacco Road is getting away to a big start in New England as a result of the wide open exploitation possibilities offered by the censorship situation here. All the New England censor boards passed the picture but, by contrast, the stage play was banned throughout this part of the country except in four cities. As a result, the exhibitors are capitalizing plenty on the chance to see the film version of the long-barred play." According to the legal records, the film had grossed almost $1,900,000 by 1973. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
1 Mar 1941.
---
Daily Variety
21 Feb 45
p. 3, 5
Film Daily
21 Feb 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Oct 40
pp. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Nov 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Nov 40
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Nov 40
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 40
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Dec 40
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jan 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Feb 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 41
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Mar 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jun 41
p. 1.
Motion Picture Daily
21 Feb 41
p. 1, 7
Motion Picture Herald
1 Mar 41
p. 36.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Mar 41
p. 73.
New York Times
3 Mar 1940.
---
New York Times
18 Aug 1940.
---
New York Times
13 Oct 1940.
---
New York Times
9 Feb 1941.
---
New York Times
21 Feb 41
p. 16.
Time
10 Mar 1941.
---
Variety
26 Feb 41
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward man
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff tech
MAKEUP
Gene Tierney's hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Publicity dir
Prod mgr
Prog mgr
Loc mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Tobacco Road by Jack Kirkland, as produced by Jack Kirkland and Harry H. Oshrin (New York, 4 Dec 1933) and the novel Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell (New York, 1932).
SONGS
"Brighten the Corner Where You Are," music by Charles H. Gabriel, lyrics by Ina Duley Ogdon
"Shall We Gather at the River," traditional
"(Gimme Dat) Old Time Religion," traditional spiritual
+
SONGS
"Brighten the Corner Where You Are," music by Charles H. Gabriel, lyrics by Ina Duley Ogdon
"Shall We Gather at the River," traditional
"(Gimme Dat) Old Time Religion," traditional spiritual
"Bringing in the Sheaves," music by George A. Minor, lyrics by Knowles Shaw
"In the Sweet Bye and Bye," music by Harry Von Tilzer, lyrics by Vincent P. Bryan.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
7 March 1941
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 20 February 1941
Production Date:
late November--late December 1940
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
7 March 1941
Copyright Number:
LP10347
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
84
Length(in feet):
7,596
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
6979
SYNOPSIS

The downtrodden Lester family lives in rural Georgia on once-prosperous farm land, now fallow, which lies alongside the old tobacoo road. The head of the family is Jeeter, a shiftless man who is always making grand plans but never following through with them. The other Lesters are Jeeter's hard-working wife Ada; their daughter Ellie May, who is a spinster at twenty-three; their high-strung son Dude, who is obsessed by automobiles; and Jeeter's silent, browbeaten mother. The Lesters are constantly on the verge of starvation, and one afternoon, when they are visited by Lov Bensey, who is married to Jeeter and Ada's daughter Pearl, the family attacks him and steals his bag of turnips. Soon after, Jeeter hears a rumor that Captain Tim Harmon, for whose father Jeeter used to farm, is coming to the tobacco road. Believing that Tim will extend credit to the farmers, Jeeter becomes convinced he can restore his farm, and in order to clear his conscience, confesses stealing the turnips to Sister Bessie, a local revivalist. Soon after, however, Jeeter meets Tim and banker George Payne, who explain that Tim is broke and subsequently, the bank has taken over his land, including that on which the Lesters live. Payne tells Jeeter he has to pay $100 rent for the year, but Jeeter has not brooded on the matter for long when it appears that his problem will be solved. Sister Bessie, who was recently widowed, announces that she heard a voice telling her to marry Dude, despite the wide disparity in their ages. Jeeter, knowing that Bessie's husband left a substantial amount of insurance money, agrees to the ... +


The downtrodden Lester family lives in rural Georgia on once-prosperous farm land, now fallow, which lies alongside the old tobacoo road. The head of the family is Jeeter, a shiftless man who is always making grand plans but never following through with them. The other Lesters are Jeeter's hard-working wife Ada; their daughter Ellie May, who is a spinster at twenty-three; their high-strung son Dude, who is obsessed by automobiles; and Jeeter's silent, browbeaten mother. The Lesters are constantly on the verge of starvation, and one afternoon, when they are visited by Lov Bensey, who is married to Jeeter and Ada's daughter Pearl, the family attacks him and steals his bag of turnips. Soon after, Jeeter hears a rumor that Captain Tim Harmon, for whose father Jeeter used to farm, is coming to the tobacco road. Believing that Tim will extend credit to the farmers, Jeeter becomes convinced he can restore his farm, and in order to clear his conscience, confesses stealing the turnips to Sister Bessie, a local revivalist. Soon after, however, Jeeter meets Tim and banker George Payne, who explain that Tim is broke and subsequently, the bank has taken over his land, including that on which the Lesters live. Payne tells Jeeter he has to pay $100 rent for the year, but Jeeter has not brooded on the matter for long when it appears that his problem will be solved. Sister Bessie, who was recently widowed, announces that she heard a voice telling her to marry Dude, despite the wide disparity in their ages. Jeeter, knowing that Bessie's husband left a substantial amount of insurance money, agrees to the match, but his scheme to borrow the rent from her is thwarted when Bessie spends all of her $800 inheritance on a new automobile for Dude. Later, Jeeter talks Dude and Bessie into taking him to Augusta to sell a load of firewood, and when no one buys the wood, he convinces the newlyweds to stay overnight in a hotel. While Dude and Bessie sleep, Jeeter steals the car, which has become increasingly dilapitated through careless treatment, and attempts to sell it. He is picked up by the chief of police, however, and the car is returned to Dude and Bessie. Jeeter then returns home, and he and Ada prepare to leave for the poor farm, a depressing, government-run home for paupers. Lov arrives, and after informing them that Pearl has run away to work in the cotton mills, is persuaded by Jeeter to take Ellie May home to care for him. Tim drives by as Jeeter and Ada are walking to the poor farm and takes them back to their home. Although he can barely afford it, Tim has given Payne six months' rent on the Lester farm, and now gives Jeeter ten dollars for seed and fertilizer. Jeeter promises to make good, but after Tim leaves, tells Ada that he will attend to his big plans "pretty soon." +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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