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Film / The Southerner

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The Southerner is a 1945 film written and directed by Jean Renoir.

It's a story about a year in the life of the Tucker clan. As the story opens they are poor laborers picking cotton in Texas. In the middle of the day, in the heat, Uncle Pete collapses in the middle of the field and dies. His dying words to family patriarch Sam Tucker are "Work for yourself. Grow your own crops."

Sam takes this to heart. He works out a deal to be a tenant farmer on an undeveloped bit of his landlord's property. The whole Tucker family—Sam, his wife Nona, their children Daisy and Jot, and "Granny", Sam's cranky, endlessly complaining mother—take up residence in a tumbledown shack. Over a year, they put in the backbreaking labor required to raise a field of cotton, despite the many difficulties: lack of food (they eat only what Sam can shoot or catch), lack of vegetables during the winter (Jot develops pellagra), and lack of running water. That last forces Sam to take water from a well owned by his neighbor, Henry Devers, who would like to see Sam gone.

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One of the films Jean Renoir made in Hollywood during his exile after the Nazi conquest of France. Finley, Henry's creepy, possibly mentally disabled son, is played by Norman Lloyd.


Tropes:

  • The City vs. the Country: Discussed Trope. Sam, who says he's a farmer because dammit, he wants to be a farmer, says that city life is fine but without farmers, city dwellers like Tim would "get skinny". Tim says that sure, that's true, but the gun that Sam used to shoot possums and the plow that he used to plow his field did not grow on trees.
  • Cobwebs of Disuse: The shack where the Tuckers have to live looks like it's about to fall down and has holes in the ceiling. But the cobwebs everywhere are the finishing touch.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: It's foreshadowed, as Tim talks about the million things that can go wrong for a farmer. But still, the storm at the end that destroys the cotton crop comes out of nowhere.
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  • Downer Beginning: The film opens with a scene where Uncle Pete collapses and dies, either of a heart attack or heat stroke, while picking cotton.
  • Down on the Farm: A poor white family's desperate struggle to raise a cotton crop, over a year, in a film that depicts all the unending labor required as well as the extent to which a farmer is hostage to fate or the weather.
  • Foreshadowing
    • Daisy says that her teacher told her that one can't eat nothing but varmints and fish, and that if one doesn't eat any vegetables one may develop pellagra. Sure enough, after a whole winter of eating possums and catfish, little Jot falls victim to pellagra.
    • Tim, who has no use for farm life, tells Sam that farmers are "gamblers" and that any one of countless things can go wrong and leave them with nothing. The climax of the movie sees Sam's entire cotton crop destroyed when a torrential thunderstorm triggers a flood.
  • For the Evulz: Sam is desperate for fresh milk, as that is one of the cures for pellagra. He goes to ask his mean neighbor Devers, only for Devers to say that he couldn't possibly spare any milk from his cows—as he mixes up the milk into feed for his pigs.
  • Hard-Work Montage: A montage shows the Tuckers, Sam and Nona, engaged in the hard work of planting a cotton crop: plowing, sowing, clearing and burning brush.
  • Intro Dump: The opening scene has Tim, Sam's cousin and friend who has forsaken farming for life as a factory worker, flipping through a photo album of Sam's family. Tim narrates to the audience, identifying every member of the Tucker family and in fact every actor in the film except for the Devers clan.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Sam and Nona hang a sheet for a little privacy on their bed, with the clear implication that sex is going to follow.
  • Slice of Life: A year in the life of Sam Tucker and his family, as they struggle mightily to make a go of Sam's dream of raising cotton.
  • Thunder = Downpour
    • Played for Laughs. Granny, who whines and complains endlessly, won't even step into the dilapidated shack—until the thunder, and the rain that follows immediately, forces her to get inside.
    • Played for Drama. A clap of thunder announces the coming of the storm that floods the town and destroys Sam's cotton crop.
  • What's He Got That I Ain't Got?!: Tim, frustrated that Lizzie the bar girl only has eyes for Sam even though Sam's married, says "What the heck has he got that I can't buy with my dough?" The answer seems obvious as Sam is a lot better-looking than pudgy Tim, but Lizzie just blows him off.
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