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Judge Priest is a 1934 American comedy film starring Will Rogers. The film was directed by John Ford, produced by Sol M. Wurtzel in association with Fox Film, and based on humorist Irvin S. Cobb's character Judge Priest. The picture is set in post-reconstruction Kentucky and the supporting cast features Henry B. Walthall, Hattie McDaniel and Stepin Fetchit.[1] It was remade by Ford in 1953 as The Sun Shines Bright.

Judge Priest
Judge Priest Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Produced bySol M. Wurtzel
Written byIrvin S. Cobb
Dudley Nichols
Lamar Trotti
StarringWill Rogers
Tom Brown
Henry B. Walthall
Hattie McDaniel
Stepin Fetchit
Music byCyril J. Mockridge
Samuel Kaylin (uncredited)
CinematographyGeorge Schneiderman
Edited byPaul Weatherwax
Production
company
Fox Film Corporation
Distributed byFox Film Corporation
Release date
  • September 28, 1934 (1934-09-28)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Contents

PlotEdit

Judge Priest is an eccentric judge in a small Kentucky town. Although his wife has been dead for 19 years when the film takes place, he shows no interest in remarrying. He sometimes stumbles with his words, but he shows his wit throughout the film. The judge, despite all his talk of being a Confederate veteran, finds his best friend to be the black Jeff Poindexter, portrayed by Stepin Fetchit. Judge Priest takes pride in his tolerance for others.

CastEdit

Will RogersEdit

Will Rogers portrays Judge Priest. The film played a major role in earning Will Rogers recognition as the number one box office star of 1934. Rogers received critical praise for his role, some noting that Rogers simply fell right into the role with his heart-warming personality. Rogers managed a balance of comedic one-liners and serious dramatics. The Tulsa Daily World summed up Rogers' performance: “The star’s portrayal of Judge Priest has the mark of authenticity upon it…the unique blending of unique talent with a rich and splendid role.”[2] Rogers was killed in a plane crash on August 15, 1935, just a year after the release of Judge Priest.

Stepin FetchitEdit

Stepin Fetchit’s character in Judge Priest, Jeff Poindexter, is the early twentieth-century stereotypical black man. Jeff Poindexter is extremely dull, slow and lazy. Stepin Fetchit (born Lincoln Perry, 1902[3]) built his reputation by stereotyping blacks in this manner. It was this portrayal of blacks that enraged many black activists who were fighting the very stereotypes he was portraying. Many labeled him a traitor and purposely avoided events that he was scheduled to attend.

Although Fetchit was uneducated, he was a very shrewd and calculating man. Despite the on-screen appearance of being dim-witted, he was aggressive with the moguls and producers who controlled Hollywood and took pride in being a “militant Negro”. Fetchit was able to work with both black and white actors, allowing him to reach high levels of success. In doing so, Fetchit was the first black actor to fight for equal treatment from Hollywood executives.

In his role as Jeff Poindexter, director John Ford gave Fetchit some room to expand his comic performance. When Judge Priest asks Jeff why he is not wearing his shoes, Jeff comically replies, “I’m saving them for when my feet wear out.”

Stepin Fetchit was known for attending lavish parties and causing mischief while off the studio lot. In fact, Fox Studios would hire a white bodyguard to ensure that he did not get into trouble while he was off set. Right before the shooting of Judge Priest, Fetchit caused a commotion at a benefit show at the Apollo Theater in New York City. When he arrived back in Hollywood for the filming of Judge Priest, Fetchit’s behavior was much better. In fact, only once was Fetchit late for a shoot (he had forgotten his make-up kit).

Hattie McDanielEdit

Hattie McDaniel played Aunt Dilsey in Judge Priest. Hattie McDaniel was just beginning her trek to stardom when she shot Judge Priest. Before starring in Judge Priest she was a relatively unknown actress. Stepin Fetchit apparently doubted her acting abilities at the beginning of shooting Judge Priest, but soon realized he was working with a very talented performer. Director John Ford noted McDaniel’s acting talents. Ford cut some of Fetchit’s scenes and gave McDaniel additional scenes. This created an initial rift between these two pioneering black actors. Hattie McDaniel would eventually surpass Stepin Fetchit in fame.

Like Stepin Fetchit, Hattie McDaniel plays into Black stereotypes characteristic of the early twentieth century. However, she loves to smile and sing while she works. She sings the song “Massa Jesus Wrote Me a Note” while making taffy at the church candy pull.

ReceptionEdit

The film was a success at the box office.[4] It was one of Fox's biggest hits of the year (five of the studio's seven big hits starred Rogers).[5]

SoundtrackEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Judge Priest". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  2. ^ Maturi, Richard J. and Mary Buckingham Maturi. Will Rogers, Performer. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1999. Print.
  3. ^ Watkins, Mel. Stepin Fetchit. New York: Random House, Inc., 2005. Print.
  4. ^ Churchill, Douglas W. The Year in Hollywood: 1934 May Be Remembered as the Beginning of the Sweetness-and-Light Era (gate locked); New York Times [New York, N.Y] December 30, 1934: X5. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  5. ^ By, D. W. (November 25, 1934). TAKING A LOOK AT THE RECORD. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/101193306?accountid=13902

External linksEdit