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Edward G. Robinson enjoyed a welcome change of pace from his usual toughguy roles when MGM cast him as a simple immigrant farmer in the family drama Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945). But although his character was a bastion of all-Americanideals, Robinson's association with screenwriter Dalton Trumbo on the filmwould come back to haunt him in later years, ultimately leading to hisblacklisting during the early part of the '50s.
That the former Little Caesar would even have been considered forthe role of Margaret O'Brien's father in this touching tale of small-townAmerica is a tribute to Robinson's versatility and tenacity. He had foughtfor more varied roles throughout his career, impressing audiences andstudio executives with his work as a pioneering medical researcher inDr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940), a hobo trying to save face at his classreunion in Tales of Manhattan (1942) and a tough-talking insuranceinvestigator in Double Indemnity (1944). In Our Vines Have TenderGrapes, he tugged at the heart strings as a simple man who drives allnight so his daughter can see a circus elephant and gives up his dream ofbuilding a new barn to help out a neighbor who's lost everything. Hisperformance earned widespread raves. Even James Agee, long an opponent ofthe studio star system, praised Robinson, O'Brien and Agnes Moorehead (asRobinson's wife) for their simple natural acting.
Robinson was thrilled to be working with screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, whomhe would describe in his memoirs as "hot-headed, wildly gifted,inordinately progressive, and, it seemed to me, intensely logical." Trumbohad already scored back-to-back hits at MGM with the wartime fantasy AGuy Named Joe (1943) and the documentary style Thirty Seconds OverTokyo (1944). For Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, he drew on hissmall-town Colorado roots to flesh out the characters in George VictorMartin's episodic novel. With three successes in a row, he negotiated anunprecedented contract at MGM, guaranteeing him $75,000 per picture and theright to work at home, where he slept all day and typed through the night-- in the bathtub.
But Trumbo's world would soon come crashing down when he was called as oneof the Hollywood Ten to testify before the House Un -American ActivitiesCommittee (HUAC) about his alleged affiliation with Communistorganizations. The Ten's refusal to answer questions about their politicalaffiliations led to prison sentences and the birth of the Hollywoodblacklist. Unable to work, Trumbo appealed to Robinson for a loan to helpkeep his family together. When word got out that Robinson had written hima check for $2,500, the star found himself unable to find work either.Robinson refused to name names or publicly declare himself a "commie dupe,"so he remained unemployed, despite appeals to FBI head J. Edgar Hoover tohelp him clear his name. It took three appearances before the HUAC beforehe could finally return to work.
Ironically, Trumbo never stopped working during that time. He wrotescripts under pseudonyms and through fronts, even smuggling one script outof prison. And he won Oscars® for The Brave One (1956) and RomanHoliday (1953) -- but not under his own name. The latter film almost led toanother encounter with one of the actors he'd written Our Vines HaveTender Grapes for. In the late '50s, he got a call from MargaretO'Brien's mother. By this time, O'Brien's days as a child star were over,and her mother was hoping to find a comeback vehicle to lead her to adultstardom. She approached Trumbo about writing a script for her daughter,initially claiming she wanted him because Our Vines Have TenderGrapes had been one of her daughter's best films. Then she admittedshe was sure a picture like Roman Holiday would put her daughterback on top. Refusing to admit or deny that he had written the film,Trumbo suggested she turn to Ian McLellan Hunter, the writer who had puthis name on the script. Ironically, Hunter was also on the blacklist bythat time -- proving that the real world was a far cry from the simpleAmerican community Trumbo had written about in Our Vines Have TenderGrapes. Ultimately, O'Brien never got her comeback vehicle, thoughaudiences will long remember her as the farm girl riding on an elephant'strunk and giving up her pet calf to save a neighbor from bankruptcy.
Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: Roy Rowland
Screenplay: Dalton Trumbo
Based on the Novel by George Victor Martin
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Martinius Jacobson), Margaret O'Brien (Selma Jacobson), James Craig (Nels Halverson), Agnes Moorehead (Bruna Jacobson), Jackie "Butch" Jenkins (Arnold Hanson), Morris Carnovsky (Bjorn Bjornson), Frances Gifford (Viola Johnson), Sara Haden (Mrs. Bjornson), Charles Middleton (Kurt Jensen).
BW-106m. Closed captioning
by Frank Miller