Cast & Crew
One fine Sunday in the Louisiana delta, a black preacher, Mr. Deshee, tells Bible stories to his Sunday school class. In order to help the children visualize God and heaven, he describes them in terms of a Southern fish fry: De Lawd looks exactly like their preacher, and except for their wings, the angels look exactly like members of the congregation. De Lawd creates too much firmament one day, so he creates the sun and earth to drain it away. After realizing what good farmland he has made, De Lawd creates Adam and Eve to live on it. Sadly, De Lawd is disappointed by Adam and Eve's descendents. After punishing Cain for Abel's murder, De Lawd leaves the Earth alone for a while, but the next time he returns, he again finds a wicked world. Because he believes that Noah, a small town preacher, is an exception, De Lawd orders him to build an ark and then sends the rains down to destroy the rest of humanity. Soon, however, things have gotten bad again and De Lawd decides that man does not have enough to do, so he gives Abraham's descendents the land of Canaan and sends Moses to lead them out of Egypt. Moses and Aaron secure the release of the Hebrew slaves only after confounding the Egyptian pharoah with their magic tricks and killing his son. The Israelites reach the promised land, but De Lawd gets so disgusted with his children that he renounces them. Not even a delegation of angels can convince him to take them back. Yet a soft voice from Earth reaches De Lawd, and he realizes that mercy can be earned through suffering. De Lawd then wonders if this means that even God must suffer, and his question is answered by the life of Jesus Christ. Sunday school is over, and the children file out into the countryside that looks so much like heaven.
Edna M. Harris
The Hall Johnson Choir
Dolores Mae Lilly
Anna Mae Fritz
Fred "snowflake" Toones
S. Charles Einfeld
Major Nathan Levinson
Jack L. Warner
The Green Pastures
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
The Green Pastures
Ranked ninth best movie in 1936 in the Film Daily annual poll of critics. The film was banned in many countries.
Recreated on the radio on "Cavalcade of America" in 1940 and 1941, both times featuring Juano Hernandez as De Lawd.
The play on which this film was based won the 1930 Pulitzer Prize and ran on Broadway for five years and 1,779 performances. The Hall Johnson Choir sang portions of twenty-five spirituals in the film. The onscreen credits list Rex Ingram and William Cumby separately for each role they play. Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart lists actor John Alexander in the cast, his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A New York Times article notes that the cost of the film was in excess of $750,000. Newsweek indicates that Connelly was paid $100,000 and given a royalty guarantee for the screen rights to his play, and claims that it was the "highest price ever paid for screen rights." According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, The Green Pastures was banned by censors in a number of countries, including Italy, Latvia, China, Palestine, Finland, Australia and Hungary. Censors in England reportedly inserted an explanatory foreword and eliminated many lines of dialogue. Contemporary sources indicate that the picture was one of the top moneymaking films of 1936 and was one of the top ten on the lists of both Film Daily and New York Times, as well as the National Board of Review's list of Best American Films. The play was presented on television three times during the 1950s.