Tap Roots (1948)
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Morna Dabney is engaged to soldier Clay MacIvor in the days before the War Between the States. Morna's grandfather Big Sam Dabney founded their Mississippi plantation near Levington, which thrives in the Deep South, but he remains loyal to the Union, as does his son Hoab, Morna's father. As Mississippi secedes, Hoab plans to withdraw the area around his plantation and remain neutral, and he gains support from local newspaperman Keith Alexander. Keith falls in love with Morna, whose fiancé Clay has joined the Confederate Army. Clay plans to punish the would-be neutral citizens of Levington by raiding the area, but Morna, with the help of her grandfather's Choctaw friend Tishomingo, attempts to thwart the attack. Morna sacrifices greatly to protect her home and the man she really loves.
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James H. Street found this ripe material for a novel, and this film's diffuse screenplay was ginned up by Alan Le May, soon to write the source novel for Ford's masterpiece THE SEARCHERS. Le May was particularly sensitive to outcast and anomalous social groups, and this script is packed with droll references, usually voiced by journalist Van Heflin, to "you people" or "those people" of the neutral County of Jones. I'm not sure secessionist folks spoke in quite this vernacular, but the disrespect implied by marginalizing "you people" or "those people" continues to ring frighteningly true today. The film is unusual in being entirely about moneyed Southern Anglo elites and blithely skirts the complex slavery issue, and its real companions are not GWTW but the 1957 oddities BAND OF ANGELS and RAINTREE COUNTY.
It is kind of a weird place, this Mississippi-in-the-Smokies, since the cast list enumerates Heflin, Susan Hayward, Boris Karloff, Julie London and Ford mainstay Ward Bond, in that order. More familiar Ford regulars, the ancient Russell Simpson and Arthur Shields, drift aimlessly into and out of the storyline, as regrettably so does wonderful Julie London who gets too little screen time. The large cast's sole African-American is the intriguing Ruby Dandridge, tetchy stage mother of Dorothy. By Universal standards this is a huge and expensive cast, and the very routine director of record George Marshall (an almost exact contemporary of John Ford but with a lesser poetic pedigree) cannot control it effectively. The final reels' battle scenes are very well managed, however, and this classical Technicolor is so luscious you could eat it with a spoon or bathe in it, as Miss Hayward revealingly does in the waterfall sequence. "These people" may be stubbornly different but they are terrifically photogenic, poster Southerners subject to larger forces (such as Kalmus Technicolor) beyond their control.