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The Green Pastures

The Green Pastures(1936)

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teaser The Green Pastures (1936)

In 1936 director Marc Connelly adapted his Pulitzer prize-winning play The Green Pastures from the stage to the screen with an all-black cast that included the talents of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Oscar Polk, Edna Mae Harris, and Rex Ingram as De Lawd. Presented as a Deep South folk tale, this lively recreation of various Old Testament stories opens with George Reed starring as Reverend Deshee, a Baptist preacher in Louisiana who is determined to educate his congregation on the stories of the bible in a manner they can easily relate to. Imagine, if you can, a "Southern-style Heaven" where black English vernacular is spoken, fish fries and free cigars are plentiful, and the Hall Johnson Choir sings spirituals in the background all day. In other words, you have a broadly played black miracle play, which should be seen in the context of when it was made to best appreciate its many virtues.

Rex Ingram dominates the film with his virtuoso turn in three roles as De Lawd, Adam, and Hezdrel. The first Black to receive the Phi Beta Kappa key at Northwestern University, Ingram quickly proved himself more creative and unpredictable than his academic record indicated. Instead of pursuing a career as a doctor upon graduating from medical school, Ingram went into film. He was often compared to Paul Robeson, as both possessed a regal quality that demanded respect from their counterparts. While Robeson was generally considered the better actor, Ingram had a unique quality that Robeson lacked and that was his ability to express compassion, gentleness, and a genuine interest in his fellow man.

The Green Pastures received generally mixed notices from the press during its original film release. The New York World Telegram called it "a beautiful film," while other publications like The Nation were quick to note its rather awkward stage-bound origins. In recent years, the film has come under fire for perpetuating the negative stereotypes surrounding African-American culture. Black film historian Donald Bogle in Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks wrote: "It is new evident that The Green Pastures rested on a cruel assumption: that nothing could be more ludicrous than transporting the lowly language and folkways of the early twentieth-century Negro back to the high stately world before the flood....And in this juxtaposition of low with high, there were implied Negro ignorance and inferiority." Despite his criticisms of the film, Bogle also added "Few film casts have ever equaled the sheer dynamics and unabashed delight that these actors showed."

Director:Marc Connelly, William Keighley
Producer:Henry Blanke, Jack L. Warner (uncredited)
Screenplay:Roark Bradford, Marc Connelly, Sheridan Gibney (uncredited)
Cinematography:Hal Mohr
Music:Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Art Direction:Stanley Fleischer, Allen Saalburg
Principal Cast:Rex Ingram (Adam/Delawd/Hezdrel), Oscar Polk (Gabriel), Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (Noah), Frank H. Wilson (Moses/Sexton), George Reed (Mr. Deshee/Aaron)
BW-93m. Closed captioning.

by Kerryn Sherrod

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