The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936)
For those who think color films didn’t start till Hollywood’s golden year of ’39 with The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, you need to check out this beautifully filmed Henry Hathaway effort in vivid technicolor.
From Paramount studios comes this Walter Wanger production starring a trio of stars who do the film proud. Fred MacMurray plays the stranger who comes to simple mountain folk with money in his pocket for rights to mine coal on their lands and make way for the railroad. He winds up in the middle of a feud between the Tollivers and the Falins. More or less a variation of the Hatfields and the McCoys. At the same time he comes between Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney who are expected to be married off come spring.
Sylvia is quite taken with Fred and begins to realize there is more to life than living out her existence without ever stepping foot out of the mountains the way her worn and weathered mother has. Beulah Bondi does a fine job here at times playing Sylvia’s mother who is tired of the fighting and killing. She just wants peace to come to the mountains and the people who work them.
Fonda plays a proud young man who has no use for the changes that MacMurray brings and isn’t excited about the coming of civilization to the mountains. The inevitable clash between Henry and Fred turns to a teaming of the two as they fight off the Falins to protect the family name and virtue of Sidney. From here the feud escalates to the point of a tragic mishap leading to death and an emotional confrontation between Fonda and his enemies where heroes are born.
Playing our mountain girl, Sylvia Sidney is captivating as the girl on the verge of becoming a woman. For those who know her mainly as an older Grandma type as in The Omen II, you might be surprised at just how beautiful she is against the on location mountain backdrop. When her eyes well up with tears in a couple scenes, I am reminded of a Richard Fleischer story. In his autobiography he worked with her on Violent Saturday and asked her to tear up for a scene at which she replied “Which eye?”
Both Fonda and MacMurray are well suited to their roles. Fred in his self assured mode and Fonda well on his way to portraying Tom Joad. Rounding out the cast is Bondi, Nigel Bruce and the child actor Spanky McFarland who is just a natural. Henry Hathaway was of course one of Hollywood’s top directors for many years in various genre’s. Probably know best for the westerns he worked on.
Seeing this title causes one to wish there were a few more color films from this era as it’s Lonesome Pine’s best attribute. Well worth the effort to pick this one up.