Monday, December 16, 2013


The Golden Age of Comedy (Post 6 of 12)

Judge Priest

Name two things about Will Rogers.

 If you asked me this I would have said, "He said I never met a man I didn't like and he died in a plane crash with Wiley Post." I'm probably not alone in remembering him this way, but let us not forget that he starred in many very popular silent and sound pictures before his 1935 death. Of course, his newspaper column and witticisms were also read by millions during this period.

The 1001 movie entry with Will Rogers is Judge Priest. This film is an interesting animal. Set in a small Kentucky town in 1890, Will plays  the old country judge who dispenses homespun justice with humor while Civil War veterans sit in the gallery planning for a potential rematch with the Yankees. We also have local politics, candy pulls, lots of gossip, random acts of chivalry and a square dance (it's a John Ford picture, after all.).  Some of the humor is funny, some of it a little cringe worthy (A Rogers joke about lynching in particular). But I guess you got to take the bad and the good.

They don't make 'em like this any more. (I'm glad they don't, but I'm glad they did...How's that for a compromise?)

In defense of Judge Priest co-star Stepin Fetchit-I first heard of Stepin Fetchit (who was also a good friend of Will Rogers off camera) second hand. I have heard many African-American actors quoted as saying  something to the effect of not wanting to do any Stepin' Fetchit roles. That's all well and good, but should we hold this against the original? His character (at least from Judge Priest, but I'm sure in other roles as well) was lazy, stupid and constantly getting things mixed up. But did he have a choice for the kind of parts he was offered?  It's not like Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington type roles were around for him then. Give him a break and try to look at him in context and you might find him a pretty funny fellow.

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