Judge Priest (1934)

79-80 mins | Comedy-drama | 28 September 1934

Director:

John Ford

Producer:

Sol M. Wurtzel

Cinematographer:

George Schneiderman

Editor:

Paul Weatherwax

Production Company:

Fox Film Corp.
Full page view
HISTORY

The working title of this film was Old Judge Priest . According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Department, Fox purchased the motion picture rights to three "Judge Priest" stories for this film from Irvin S. Cobb: "A Treeful of Hoot Owls," which was first published in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan , Aug 1930; "Br'er Fox and the Brian Patch," which was first published under the title "Br'er Rabbit, He Lay Low," in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan , May 1931; and "Words and Music," which was first published in The Saturday Evening Post , 28 Oct 1911. The first two stories were included in the collection Down Yonder with Judge Priest and Irwin S. Cobb (New York, 1932), while the third story was included in the collection Back Home (New York, 1912). The publishers of the first collection, Ray Long and the R. R. Smith Corp., sued Twentieth Century-Fox and Cobb in 1938 because they received no compensation for the use of the stories, and in 1939, the studio settled with them for $2,000.
       When Cobb learned that Fox planned to use in their screen credits for the film the statement, "Based on the Judge Priest stories by Irvin S. Cobb," he objected that the statement would not be accurate, as at the time he had written over seventy "Judge Priest" stories and planned to write still more, and that the statement might mitigate against future sales of his stories. He suggested a number of alternative statements, including the one used in the final credits, "Based on Irvin S. Cobb's character of ... More Less

The working title of this film was Old Judge Priest . According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Department, Fox purchased the motion picture rights to three "Judge Priest" stories for this film from Irvin S. Cobb: "A Treeful of Hoot Owls," which was first published in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan , Aug 1930; "Br'er Fox and the Brian Patch," which was first published under the title "Br'er Rabbit, He Lay Low," in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan , May 1931; and "Words and Music," which was first published in The Saturday Evening Post , 28 Oct 1911. The first two stories were included in the collection Down Yonder with Judge Priest and Irwin S. Cobb (New York, 1932), while the third story was included in the collection Back Home (New York, 1912). The publishers of the first collection, Ray Long and the R. R. Smith Corp., sued Twentieth Century-Fox and Cobb in 1938 because they received no compensation for the use of the stories, and in 1939, the studio settled with them for $2,000.
       When Cobb learned that Fox planned to use in their screen credits for the film the statement, "Based on the Judge Priest stories by Irvin S. Cobb," he objected that the statement would not be accurate, as at the time he had written over seventy "Judge Priest" stories and planned to write still more, and that the statement might mitigate against future sales of his stories. He suggested a number of alternative statements, including the one used in the final credits, "Based on Irvin S. Cobb's character of 'Judge Priest'." Included in the legal records is a statement by Cobb in which he notes that the writers of the screenplay "practically created a new and different story from the material [i.e. the three "Judge Priest" stories] turned over to them" and that many of the characters in the film, including "Ellie May Gillespie," "Jerome Priest" and "Virginia Maydew" were not his creations. At a later date, Twentieth Century-Fox officials determined that a fourth "Judge Priest" story, entitled "The Mob from Massac," which was also included in the collection Back Home , provided the basis for one of the sequences in the film, but that the studio never purchased the rights to that story.
       The character played by Frank Melton, although called "Flem Talley" during most of the film, is called "Flem Jones" in the courtroom scene. In the screen credits, Stepin Fetchit's name, although listed last, is in larger letters than the other cast members' except for Rogers'.
       According to modern sources, a lynching scene was originally shot for the film, but was excised by the studio. The first draft screenplay, dated 12 Apr 1934, in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, also at UCLA, contains a scene in which a mob of townsfolk are fixing to lynch "Jeff," the character who in the film was played by Stepin Fetchit. Having blood on his hands from some beef liver that had been eaten by dogs, Jeff is mistaken for another black man suspected of assault. The mob storms tries to storm the jail, but Judge Priest is summoned, and he sends them home. No information has been located to confirm that this scene was actually shot. Modern sources also list Robert Parrish as a cast member and note that the film was one of 1934's top grossing films. In a 1972 interview, John Ford noted that Judge Priest was his favorite picture of all time. In 1953, Ford directed another film, entitled The Sun Shines Bright , based on three of Irvin S. Cobb's "Judge Priest" stories, one of which was the above mentioned "The Mob from Massac." That film was produced by Argosy Productions, released by Republic, and starred Charles Winninger, Arleen Whelan and Stepin Fetchit (see below). More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
20 Oct 1934.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jul 34
p. 4.
Film Daily
18 Aug 34
p. 4.
Harrison's Reports
25 Aug 34
p. 134.
HF
9 Jun 34
p. 8.
HF
30 Jun 34
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 34
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 34
p. 3.
International Photographer
Jul 34
p. 16.
Motion Picture Daily
6 Aug 34
p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald
11 Aug 34
p. 31.
New York Times
12 Oct 34
p. 33.
Variety
16 Oct 34
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTOR
Settings
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Gowns
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
PRODUCTION MISC
Still photog
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the character created by Irvin S. Cobb.
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Massa Jesus Wrote Me a Note" and "Aunt Dilsey's Song," music by Cyril J. Mockridge, lyrics by Dudley Nichols and Lamar Trotti.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Old Judge Priest
Release Date:
28 September 1934
Production Date:
early June--18 July 1934
Copyright Claimant:
Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
28 September 1934
Copyright Number:
LP4979
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
79-80
Length(in feet):
7,220
Length(in reels):
8
Country:
United States
PCA No:
111
SYNOPSIS

In an old Kentucky town in 1890, Judge William Pitman Priest reads the comics, and confederate veterans argue about their battles as ex-State Senator Horace Maydew tries to prosecute Jeff Poindexter, a sleeping black man, for stealing chickens. After the judge questions Jeff about his favorite fishing spot, he and Jeff go fishing, and Jeff subsequently becomes a part of the judge's household. When the judge's nephew Jerome, "Rome" for short, returns after getting a law degree, he is disappointed that the girl next door, Ellie May Gillespie, whom he loves, wants to end their courtship because Rome's mother Caroline objects that Ellie May's mother died in childbirth and no one knows the identity of her father. When Flemming Talley, an uncouth barber, visits Ellie May, the judge scares him away and encourages Rome to court her. Feeling lonely, the judge visits his wife's grave and sees Bob Gillis, an uncommunicative blacksmith, place flowers on the grave of Ellie May's mother. After Gillis punches Talley for making jokes about Ellie May's background and character, Talley and two others attack him with pool cues. Gillis cuts Talley with his knife, and Talley takes Gillis to court for starting the fight. Rome represents Gillis, and Maydew, who is running for circuit court judge against Judge Priest, demands an impartial judge. The judge, hurt and upset, steps down, and during the trial, Gillis' refusal to mention Ellie May hurts his chances to win. After Reverend Ashby Brand, who knows Gillis' past, confides in Judge Priest, the judge joins the defense and has the reverend testify that during the "war for the Southern confederacy," he recruited Gillis, a ... +


In an old Kentucky town in 1890, Judge William Pitman Priest reads the comics, and confederate veterans argue about their battles as ex-State Senator Horace Maydew tries to prosecute Jeff Poindexter, a sleeping black man, for stealing chickens. After the judge questions Jeff about his favorite fishing spot, he and Jeff go fishing, and Jeff subsequently becomes a part of the judge's household. When the judge's nephew Jerome, "Rome" for short, returns after getting a law degree, he is disappointed that the girl next door, Ellie May Gillespie, whom he loves, wants to end their courtship because Rome's mother Caroline objects that Ellie May's mother died in childbirth and no one knows the identity of her father. When Flemming Talley, an uncouth barber, visits Ellie May, the judge scares him away and encourages Rome to court her. Feeling lonely, the judge visits his wife's grave and sees Bob Gillis, an uncommunicative blacksmith, place flowers on the grave of Ellie May's mother. After Gillis punches Talley for making jokes about Ellie May's background and character, Talley and two others attack him with pool cues. Gillis cuts Talley with his knife, and Talley takes Gillis to court for starting the fight. Rome represents Gillis, and Maydew, who is running for circuit court judge against Judge Priest, demands an impartial judge. The judge, hurt and upset, steps down, and during the trial, Gillis' refusal to mention Ellie May hurts his chances to win. After Reverend Ashby Brand, who knows Gillis' past, confides in Judge Priest, the judge joins the defense and has the reverend testify that during the "war for the Southern confederacy," he recruited Gillis, a chain-gang prisoner, who fought nobly. The reverend's recitation of Gillis' heroic deeds builds to an emotional peak and climaxes when he reveals that Gillis, Ellie May's father, has secretly paid him to provide for her education. The courtroom explodes with adulation, Caroline wants to be Ellie May's mother, and during the veteran's parade that day, Gillis is asked to carry the confederate flag. +

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

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.