God's Little Acre
Cast & Crew
For fifteen years Ty Ty Walden has dug up his Georgia farmland with his sons Buck and Shaw in hopes of discovering gold that his grandfather promised was buried there. Shaw labors cheerfully and without question, seeking happiness in town with local girls while Buck works in frustration, consumed with jealousy that his pretty wife Griselda may still love her former beau, Will Thompson. One day, ice cream truck driver Pluto Swint, who is running for sheriff, visits the Walden farm hoping to work up the nerve to court Ty Ty's youngest and flirtatious daughter, Darlin' Jill. When Pluto learns about Ty Ty's dream of discovering gold, he suggests that Ty Ty consult with an albino, as albinos are known to have special powers of divination. Ty Ty frets about digging up an acre of land he has dedicated to God, but eventually decides that the Lord would understand if he moved the acre closer to the main house. Convinced that he needs help digging, Ty Ty asks to accompany his sons on their weekly trip to Peach Tree Valley to see Will and his wife Rosamund, Ty Ty's other daughter. After Buck orders Griselda to remain at home, the Waldens visit Rosamund, who scolds Ty Ty for continuing his vain quest. She then laments that Will spends most of his time drinking since being laid off from the bankrupt cotton mill. Arriving home drunk, Will nearly provokes a fight with Buck when he reminisces about Griselda. When Ty Ty asks for his help, Will maintains he is not a farmer and refuses to return with him. After Ty Ty and his sons return home, they discover that Pluto and farmhand Uncle Felix have brought Dave Dawson, an albino from nearby Swamp Corner, to help find the gold. Dave is unsure what is required of him but when Pluto explains that the gold hunting is much like looking for water, Dave takes a willow stick and is promptly led to God's acre near the house. Buck points out that if the gold is indeed on God's acre, then, per his father's promise, it will go to the church. After a hasty prayer seeking God's approbation, Ty Ty moves the acre down by the creek and begins digging by the house. In Peach Tree Valley, Will's friends worry that Ty Ty will lure him into becoming a farmer, but Will assures them that he will never work the land, then goes to the empty cotton mill to decry its closure. The following day, Will and Rosamund visit the farm to help Ty Ty and the others. Pluto proposes to Darlin' Jill, who rejects him, saying she may change her mind after the results of the sheriff's election. When Buck becomes aware of Griselda and Will exchanging glances, he angrily sends his wife to the house. Meanwhile, Darlin' Jill becomes fascinated by Dave's uniqueness and that evening seduces him in a rowboat on the creek. After helping dig all of the next day, Will berates Ty Ty and the others for their foolish venture. That night Will meets Griselda by the well and the two declare their feelings for each other. The next day Ty Ty questions Dave about his powers, declaring that he only believes in what is purely scientific. Concerned over the family's near destitution, Uncle Felix pleads with Ty Ty to give up his search and return to farming, but Ty Ty admits he is consumed by a fever for gold. Uncle Felix then suggests that Ty Ty go to Augusta to ask for a loan from his estranged, eldest son, Jim Leslie, who has married into wealth. Ty Ty agrees and takes Griselda and Darlin' Jill along. Jim Leslie receives Ty Ty with scorn, scoffing at his father's dream, yet nevertheless gives him money. Ty Ty is disgusted when Jim Leslie makes a crude pass at Griselda and declares he will pay back the loan to Jim's wife. Back in Peach Tree Valley, Buck attempts to outdrink Will at a local bar and then starts a fight with his inebriated brother-in-law. Worried about Will's obsession to restore the cotton mill, Rosamund pleads with Griselda to accompany them home to reason with her riled husband. After sleeping off his drunkenness, Will insists on returning to the cotton mill the next day. Concerned, Griselda accompanies him and as several townsfolk gather, Will breaks into the empty mill, turns on the lights and starts up the machinery. When Will refuses the guard's orders to move away from the machinery, the guard panics and shoots him, stunning Griselda and the townspeople. At Will's funeral a couple of days later, Buck is enraged when Jim Leslie eyes Griselda. When Ty Ty admonishes them not to fight, but to try forgiveness and to learn how to dream, Buck scorns his father. Jim Leslie then mocks the family for their backwardness, angering Buck, who attacks him. When Ty Ty intervenes, Buck lashes out with a club, but Ty Ty manages to prevent Buck from killing his brother. Stunned, Ty Ty at last realizes how his fantasy has nearly ruined his family. The next day Ty Ty resumes farming with a relieved Buck, Shaw and Uncle Felix. When Pluto wins the election, he and Darlin' Jill become engaged, and Griselda and Buck attempt to begin a new life together.
J. Henry Adams
Joan B. Marcus
Richard C. Meyer
John S. Poplin Jr.
Lyle B. Reifsnider
Robert N. Tracy
God's Little Acre
Ty Ty is occasionally distracted in his big dig by strange notions - including the certainty that an albino named Dave Dawson (Michael Landon) will help him locate the treasure more quickly. Equally distracting is an even stranger cast of local characters including a buffoonish ice cream truck driver running for sheriff, Pluto Swint (Buddy Hackett), who longs to marry Ty Ty's provocative, mischievous daughter Darlin' Jill (Fay Spain). Ty Ty's complicated family relationships also conspire to distract him from his goal, such as the tempestuous marriage of the beautiful Griselda (Tina Louise) to his son Buck, who believes Griselda still carries a torch for her former beau and Ty Ty's son-in-law Will Thompson (Aldo Ray). While the Waldens dig away in rural Georgia, in town Will-the hard-drinking husband of Ty Ty's daughter Rosamund (Helen Westcott)-is similarly possessed by another quest: to reopen the shuttered cotton mill which once employed a good percentage of the town.
Despite a sense of absurdity that confirms every stereotype about scheme-crazy, sex-crazed Southerners, God's Little Acre endures as a capsule of its time and a rousing entertainment to boot. Nominated for a Golden Lion at the 1958 Venice Film Festival, God's Little Acre is often remembered as the film debut of Tina Louise and for its stand-out performance by Robert Ryan as the crazed Southern farmer. "He makes a rough-hewn but memorable figure," noted a positive review the year of its release in The New York Times. Anthony Mann, according to Jean Basinger's biography of the director, considered the film, alongside Winchester '73 (1950), El Cid (1961) and Men in War (1957), one of his favorite films, despite never achieving great box office success.
Though the film's sexual content in some ways diverged from Mann's overtly masculine film oeuvre, Basinger found the representation of Ty Ty as a father engaged in a complicated relationship with both the landscape and his sons and daughters, as more typically Mann. Basinger also saw in the roles of Rosamund and Griselda, in love with the same man, another characteristic authorial flourish, "they represent a female variation on Mann's idea of opposite characters linked by some common interest or shared emotion."
The film was based on Erskine Caldwell's sensational best-selling novel whose sexual content resulted in the book's being banned from many book stores upon its release in 1933. The New York Society of Suppression of Vice even filed a complaint against the film, which was dismissed by the New York City magistrate.
The film script itself was initially rejected by the PCA for its sexual content: the affair between Will Thompson and Griselda, the description of Shaw's sexual activity and Jim Leslie's sexual attentions to Griselda while his wife was ill. Jim Leslie's role in the novel and a far more downbeat ending also in Caldwell's original, were removed to meet with PCA approval. In fact, notes Basinger, the novel was chosen for adaptation "to cater to the preoccupation with sex and explosive emotions of the audience of the 1950s." Oftentimes, filmmakers chose the lower classes or a geographically remote setting to treat sexuality, as Basinger notes, "the vicarious enjoyment of throwing off middle-class manners and correct behavior was best approached through a distanced setting, both geographically and socially."
Actual Southerners were less pleased with the prospect of the film shooting in Atlanta, where Mann and producer Sidney Harmon initially scouted locations. Denied the right to shoot in Georgia, the film ended up being lensed outside of Stockton, CA. Anticipating a negative response to the film, Mann spent an additional $75,000 shooting alternate scenes for exhibition below the Mason Dixon line, including scenes involving Southern womanhood, politics and unemployment meant to appease Southern viewers. In truth, the film was critically well-received. Daily Variety described God's Little Acre as "a ripe Georgia peach, bursting with earthy vigor." The New York Times said of Caldwell's "primitive, ribald Georgia rustics," that they emerged "impressively alive and full of sex, vitality and bucolic humor. Although they still are as far from the country-club set as possible, the denizens of God's Little Acre have been treated with dignity and intelligence in a folk comedy that is actually funny, realistic and rarely a lampoon."
Director: Anthony Mann
Producer: Sidney Harmon
Screenplay: Philip Yordan based on the novel by Erskine Caldwell
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Production Design: Jack Poplin
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Ty Ty Walden (Robert Ryan), Bill Thompson (Aldo Ray), Griselda (Tina Louise), Pluto (Buddy Hackett), Buck Walden (Jack Lord), Darlin' Jill (Fay Spain), Shaw Walden (Vic Morrow), Rosamund (Helen Westcott), Jim Leslie (Lance Fuller), Uncle Felix (Rex Ingram), Dave Dawson (Michael Landon).
by Felicia Feaster
God's Little Acre
The onscreen title card reads: "Security Pictures, Inc. presents Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre." God's Little Acre was based on Caldwell's controversial and best-selling 1933 novel of the same name, which, due to the story's sexual content, was banned from many book stores upon publication and faced a court censorship battle. The complaint, filed by the New York Society of Suppression of Vice, was later dismissed by a New York City magistrate, which upheld the integrity of the novel. Upon the film's release, several reviews noted that its ending was considerably less somber than that of the book. In the novel, "Buck Walden" kills his brother, "Jim Leslie," for attempting to abduct Buck's wife "Griselda," whom Jim had molested earlier when their father, "Ty Ty Walden," came to him to borrow money. The book ends with Ty Ty wearily telling his daughters and Griselda that Buck has wandered off with a shotgun, presumably to commit suicide.
According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection in the AMPAS Library, on January 3, 1950 producer Anson Bond of Emerald Productions submitted a script of God's Little Acre for PCA approval, indicating his intention to begin production within three months. On January 17, 1950, the PCA rejected the script, basing their decision on three major story details: the "sex affair" between "Will Thompson" and Griselda, his sister-in-law; the forthright description of "Shaw's" daily sexual activity; and Jim Leslie making advances to Griselda while his wife lay ill. There is no indication that Bond or Emerald pursued production of the film further.
A August 4, 1955 Hollywood Reporter item notes that producer Sidney [erroneously called Ed] Harmon was finalizing a deal with Caldwell, writer Philip Yordan and director Anthony Mann to produce the film. In December 1955, Los Angeles Times noted that Caldwell, Yordan and Mann would co-produce the film and hoped to cast Spencer Tracy for the role of "Ty Ty Walden." A April 3, 1957 Variety article states that producer Harmon and Yordan maintained that they had not submitted a copy of the script to the PCA, had no intention of doing so and would ensure that the film received distribution with or without the PCA seal of approval. Correspondence in the PCA file indicates, however, that by May 1957, Yordan had submitted a script and was making alterations in accordance with PCA recommendations. Those changes included reducing the role of Jim Leslie from that of the novel and also excising his subsequent murder by Buck for his attempt to seduce Griselda.
The April 1957 Variety article mentioned above indicates that Mann and Harmon would be scouting for locations in Georgia for shooting. A August 9, 1957 Hollywood Reporter item reveals that as a result of press and civic pressure in Atlanta, Mann and Security Pictures were denied permission to film in Georgia and would be searching for new locations in Louisiana, the Carolinas and Southern California. The item states that "(Atlanta) civic and business leaders and the press" feared that Caldwell's story would portray the region in bad light. An October 1957 New York Times article describes location shooting that took place just outside of Stockton, CA. The article relates that the Stockton Chamber of Commerce was extremely pleased with the location shooting of the William Wyler-Gregory Peck production of The Big Country and invited Mann to shoot in their city upon learning of his difficulties in Georgia. A August 29, 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item added Sharon Lee to the cast, but her appearance in the film has not been confirmed.
Despite the controversy surrounding it, the completed picture was released without incident, with the Daily Variety review describing it as "a ripe Georgia peach, bursting with earthy vigor." The Motion Picture Herald praised the film for its "ring of truth and sincerity." According to a March 31, 1958 Daily Variety article, the filmmakers had spent $75,000 shooting "alternate scenes" to be used for exhibition "below the Mason-Dixon Line," if audiences reactly negatively to the picture. The article detailed that the sequences, having to do with politcs, unemployment, the existence of brothels and the treatment of "Southern womanhood," would be made available to Southern UA exchanges, although based on favorable previews, Harmon doubted that they would be used. It has not been determined if the substitute footage was ever exhibited in the United States. The article did assert that Europeans would "get an entirely different view" of the picture-a "revealing one of curvaceous Tina Louise and a lengthened one of a rather intimate love scene." God's Little Acre marked Louise's motion picture debut.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1958 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States Spring May 1958
Released in United States Spring May 1958