I streamed the Southerner over the last weekend on Netflix. I had never heard of this movie before. The Southerner was directed by Jean Renoir. It stars Zachary Scott as Sam Tucker, Betty Field as Nona Tucker, Beulah Bondi as Granny Tucker and Charles Kemper as Tim. The Southerner was released on April 30, 1945.
The Southerner is based on a book titled Hold Autumn in Your Hands by George Sessions Perry. The movie received Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Music Score and Sound.
Sam and Nona Tucker
The Tucker family are Texans who have been working as cotton pickers for a very long time. I get the impressions that they are generations of cotton pickers. When the films starts the scene is a cotton plantation and the workers are picking cotton out in the field. This may seem naive to some people, but I expected to see all black people in that scene picking cotton. In fact, there was not one single person of African descent in that scene. When I think of cotton picking right away I get an image in my head of black people picking cotton in the South during slavery.
Back during the mid 1990’s I used to listen to a morning radio show during my commute to work. One of the hosts was the late Issac Hayes. One morning Mr. Hayes was talking about when he was a little boy he had to go out in the field to pick cotton. I thought myself…. what??? Isaac Hayes was born in 1942. You mean to tell me that people were still out there in the middle of the 20th century picking cotton out in the hot sun for low wages? I know this sounds ignorant coming from a woman of African descent, but I was not born in this country. I was born in Panama in Central America. My parents were both born and raised in Panama. My maternal grandparents were from Jamaica and then moved to Panama. Before that the maternal side of my family came from Africa. On my paternal side of the family it is pretty much the same story. From Africa they were brought to the West Indies and then somehow found their way to Panama. As far as I know I do not have any roots in America that go back to the slavery system here. I do know that some people on my father’s side of the family came to America some time in the 1920’s but it was just for a visit. When my father arrived in America and then sent for me, my brother Ricardo and my mother, we were the very first people in my family on both sides to make America our home and with us is where our roots in America begins. So, I had no idea that people were still picking cotton in the middle of the 20th century until I heard Isaac Hayes say so that morning on talk radio.
Now here I am watching this movie The Southerner, I am learning that white people also worked out in the field in the 20th century picking cotton in order to support their families. Will my naiveté ever cease? I wonder if I can find family stories about this online?
Yes, I know that I am supposed to be doing a movie review. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
Getting back to the Tuckers, a male family member becomes ill while they are all out in the field picking cotton. Sam Tucker and other workers makes him as comfortable as possible on the ground and Sam takes over picking cotton for him. If I am not mistaken each worker has a quota of cotton that has to be picked each day. The sick man laying on the ground tells Sam to go out and start his own farm and work for himself. The man passes away and after the family lays him rest Sam decides to start his own farm. Sam strikes a deal to lease a farm and off he goes with his wife Nona, their two children and Granny Tucker.
The land that Sam leased is good earth for growing things, but Sam forgot to think about the living space. When Sam drives up to the house with his family it is a very old house that has been abandoned for years. It is not really livable and Sam is almost sorry for bringing his family out there. Nona is a very supportive wife though. She is determined that Sam will not be discouraged and the family all go inside the wreck of a house to start cleaning it up. Nona manages to get the old cook stove working.
Granny Tucker is not so cooperative. When she sees the house she climbs back up on seat on the back of the truck and refuses to live there.
A rain storm begins and Granny Tucker is forced to go inside and join them for their meal.
The leased farm has no well, so the Tuckers have no water. Sam asks his neighbor, Devers, if they can share their well water. Devers is not really very friendly but agrees to share the well until Sam can build his own. Sam promises to help in keeping the well filled.
With two mules and some seeds Sam starts his farm with the help of his wife Nona.
San goes into town where he meets up with his good friend Tim. Tim works at the nearby factory making good money. Tim suggests to Sam that he go to work in the factory. Tim is in good with the person who does the hiring and can get Sam in for sure. Sam admits the money sounds good, but turns down the offer because in his heart he is a farmer.
Sam comes home with a possum for dinner.
Life is hard on the farm. Devers tries to sabotage the Tucker’s farm by allowing his farm animals to go over to the Tucker farm and eat their crop. The Tucker farm is also victim to the weather patterns. Come winter and the Tuckers nearly starve to death. They can’t farm in the winter so their food has to be caught. Most of the time Sam comes home empty-handed, but one day he manages to catch a possum. That night the family sits down to a hot possum stew dinner.
After saying grace the Tuckers devour the hot possum stew.
As the spring season starts Sam’s son Jot becomes ill. Jot desperately needs milk and vegetables in his system. It takes time to grow vegetables and Sam does not own a cow. Sam goes to his neighbor Devers to ask for milk for his son, but Devers refuses to help Sam.
Nona finally breaks down. Her son is not getting better and she cannot stand to hear him cry anymore. In desperation Sam goes back to his friend Tim to get in him for a job at the factory. Tim knows that Sam really does not want to do that. A family friend gifts the Tuckers with a cow so now Jot can get milk and the nutrition he needs.
Sam’s new crop is doing nicely until a fierce storm comes and not only destroys all Sam’s crop but the house as well. The Tuckers have to start all over again. After they look over all the damage Nona and the children encourage Sam to keep moving forward. Just like in the beginning Nona goes to get the cook stove firing up once again.
This is actually a very heart warming American story. It is so nice to see characters like Sam and Nona Tucker working together as a team. Neither tears the other down. When times get though the wife and children can still see the bright side of things and will not allow the husband and father to give up. It is also nice to see real family love. The Tuckers truly care about one another and are decent people. The close-knit supportive family is my favorite aspect of this movie. No matter what as long as you have a loving and supportive family you are already much enriched.