GOD’S LITTLE ACRE—if you’re in a down mood and the futility of dealing with the World is making your shoulders slump, this 1958 slice of rustic Americana might lift your doldrums. The script was crafted from Erskine Caldwell’s famous 1933 proletarian novel.
The economically constructed comedy-drama deals with the family of ‘Ty Ty Walden’, a Georgia farmer who’s spent fifteen years digging holes on his property, searchin’ for nonexistent gold. Robert Ryan is Ty Ty, and the role is such a change of style for the actor that you might take a while to adjust to his interpretation. Usually dead-serious and frequently downright cynical or vicious, here Ryan is garrulous, ribald and earthy as all-get-out.
One son (Jack Lord) simmers with hot blooded jealousy over his wife (Tina Louise). Another (Vic Morrow) is an amiable doof. One daughter (Fay Spain) is an outrageous tease, who drives her goofy suitor (Buddy Hackett) to near implosion and the other (Helen Westcott) suffers in her marriage to lusty Aldo Ray. The object of Ray’s lust, understandably, is Ms. Louise. Third son (Lance Fuller) is too big for his britches and scorns the tribe from his better-off financial position. Michael Landon appears as an albino who the family kidnaps for a good luck-charm (they regard that condition and the boy as a part miracle, like a talking opossum). The great Rex Ingram has a nice bit as the fellow tasked with watching the albino. The white magic must’ve worked because a year later Landon found his own gold with the start of Bonanza.
In her film debut, Louise shows off to good advantage her underused dramatic talent as well as her scorching sexuality. There’s some pretty revealing décolletage in this movie, though clearly she was aided that year by superstar and fellow sexpot Monroe’s full frontal assault on breastworks in Some Like It Hot.*
She does have some naughty competition from Ms. Spain, 26, a bit different in appearance from the usual starlet-of-the-day (casting agents had found her ‘unphotogenic’, go figure) but she certainly came across as vital here, and went on to a busy though short-lived career (she died at 50 from cancer).
Plenty of funny lines and some effective moments of real human desperation mix, as directed by Anthony Mann. The script was credited to Philip Yordan, but he was fronting for blacklisted Ben Maddow. Maddow on Yordan: “One of the great characters of the World…. Philip Yordan has never written more than a sentence in his life. He’s incapable of writing….. I was simply astonished about what went on in his house. You’d be working during the day, you’d stop there for lunch, you’d be sitting at the table, and his wife would bring some food in and say, “I poisoned it. I hope you die.” To show his contempt, he would get up and take a leak with the door wide open.”
The 118 minutes are started off by a toe-tapping title tune from Elmer Bernstein’s rurally right music score.
* Caldwell’s novel had scandalized folks back in the 30s, with its steamy sinning. Boston banned it. The grandly named ‘New York Society of the Suppression Of Vice’ tried to have it banned there. It sold 14,000,000 copies. Civic-minded citizens in Atlanta saw to it the production set no foot on Georgia’s sin-free red clay, so the film was shot in California, as the Stockton Chamber of Commerce had no trouble with tawdriness that didn’t reflect on them and hey, money is green all over.