The Shepherd of the Hills (1941)
If one didn’t know better you’d think that you were watching a John Ford film here as many of the cast members are from Ford’s stock company. Not to worry as everything is handled quite professionally by that other old time veteran Henry Hathaway.
The film is reminiscent of Hathaway’s earlier film Trail of the Lonesome Pine. Both were done in glorious technicolor and involved poor mountain folk.
This time out we get Harry Carey turning up in the Ozark Mountains looking to buy some property. As a stranger to the mountain clans, he is taken under the wing of young and beautiful Betty Field.
She guides him though the mountains to meet up with Beulah Bondi. It is a parcel of land that she possesses which Carey is interested in. For the price of a thousand dollars she sells him the land.
This doesn’t sit well with the young man in Field’s life. John Wayne claims the land is his. It was his Mothers land and he has sworn vengeance on his father who deserted her while she was pregnant with the Duke.
Carey is wonderful in this role and carries the film. It’s his character that has the past that will slowly come out as the film moves along. He’s educated and refined compared to the mountain people and his gentleness shines through as he wants nothing more than to settle down and help wherever he can. This includes doctoring and arranging for an elderly blind woman played by Marjorie Main to receive the gift of sight through modern medical procedures. The scene is both emotional and at the same time damning for Carey.
Long before the fade out we know that Carey is the Duke’s father but it’s the mystery of the circumstances that need to be played out and just how Duke will handle it.
While I am not overly fond of the superstitions played out by Beulah’s character and the wrap it up finale, there is much to appreciate here. Like many Duke films, Ward Bond’s in here but alas is underused this time out. We also get that other John Ford regular, John Qualen turning up.
The photography is beautiful as it was in the Lonesome Pine film. John Wayne is always worth watching in anything and with Stagecoach under his belt, he was well on his way by the time this film went before the cameras. He would of course work repeatedly with Hathaway on films including True Grit and The Sons of Katie Elder among others.
Betty Field is a joy to watch here as the young girl who’s wild, barefooted and waiting to be swept up by the Duke. The scene where Carey explains what a bank check is with her is a delight as is the follow through where he claims real money with it.
Lastly I can’t say enough here about Harry Carey. A wonderful performance that isn’t really a performance at all. He brings that Spencer Tracy naturalness to the screen that it is impossible not to like.