Our Daily Bread (1934)
The couple gets a needed leg up when Mary's uncle tells the jobless John about some farm land he owns far from their city lives. With no farming experience but plenty of ambition, John sets out to become a farmer. When an immigrant Minnesota farmer (John Qualen) and his family also searching for work run out of gas at the Sims farm, they become the first worker/residents in a unique experiment. John Sims opens his land to dozens of skilled men and women also out of work. They create a communal farm where everything money, livestock, food is shared for the common good. But the Edenic community is jeopardized, first when the land is put up for auction and then, when a devastating drought threatens to kill the first corn crop. John's interest in the farm is likewise threatened by the arrival of a seductive vamp (Barbara Pepper) who aims to pluck the handsome labor leader off the farm. Director Vidor admitted that the floozy with the Jean Harlow platinum hair was brought in purely for box office.
Like so many directors before him, Texas-born Vidor began in Hollywood filling a number of roles, first as an extra, then as a script-clerk and then as a writer in the story department at Universal. When his mentor, George Brown, left Universal to start his own company, Vidor was brought on as a director for his Brentwood Company. His first feature was The Turn in the Road (1919) inspired by the teachings of Christian Science, a harbinger of the director's lifelong interest in films with a social message and metaphysical content.
Vidor's first certifiable "smash" was the film he called "an honest war picture". Until then they'd all been very phony, glorifying officers and warfare." His The Big Parade (1925) was based on the Laurence Stallings play What Price Glory? and according to the director, it "put me on the map." The enormously successful picture led to a long-term deal with MGM and affirmed Vidor's status as a courted, important screen auteur.
"There were no Academy Awards at the time," said Vidor in The Celluloid Muse. "But, had we had them, I probably would have swept the whole field. It was a tremendous triumph."
Vidor went on to direct a number of notable pictures including the film Irving Thalberg dubbed Vidor's "experimental" work, The Crowd (1928), whose star James Murray would end up an alcoholic suicide. Equally innovative was Vidor's first sound film, the all-black musical Hallelujah! (1929), although some felt it was condescending toward its characters. The Champ (1931), Stella Dallas (1937), Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Fountainhead (1949) all followed.
Vidor was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest career as a film director, spanning 67 years. Vidor also directed the black and white segments of The Wizard of Oz (1939) when Victor Fleming left that production to helm Gone with the Wind (1939); Vidor was not credited for his work.
Taken from a Reader's Digest article, Vidor's drama Our Daily Bread was, the film proclaimed, "inspired by headlines of today." So firm was Vidor's belief in the merit of the project he produced it with his own money. He later said he "just about broke even."
Like his phenomenal silent picture The Crowd, about the soulless, inhumane machinery of city life, Our Daily Bread has at its heart an empathy for people, and the daily economic and moral struggles that complicate their lives, especially during national crises like the Great Depression. The film's goodhearted message about cooperation and honest work did not, however, endear it to the Hearst press who dubbed Our Daily Bread "pinko."
The New York Times was more complimentary, calling the film "a social document of amazing vitality and emotional impact."
Vidor has remained, along with Frank Capra, John Ford and D.W. Griffith, one of the essential native voices in American cinema. Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg rightfully call the director, "a poet of Americana." But Vidor wasn't the only idealist onboard Our Daily Bread. Actress Karen Morley, who played the devoted, but infidelity-fearful wife Mary Sims, was also a progressive thinker, though her beliefs got her into serious trouble. Morley was eventually fingered by actor Sterling Hayden as a suspected Communist Party member and blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. She never made another film.
Vidor saw Our Daily Bread as the second film after The Big Parade as his War-Wheat-Steel trilogy. An American Romance (1944), about an immigrant who rises from the iron mines and steel mills of America to become an industrialist, was the third film in that trilogy.
Nominated for a Best Director Academy Award five times, Vidor was eventually given an honorary Oscar® in 1979 and was honored with an annual King Vidor Film Festival in his hometown of Galveston.
Director: King Vidor
Producer: King Vidor
Screenplay: Story by King Vidor, scenario by Elizabeth Hill, dialogue by Joseph Mankiewicz
Cinematography: Robert Planck
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Karen Morley (Mary Sims), Tom Keene (John Sims), Barbara Pepper (Sally), Addison Richards (Louie Fuente), John Qualen (Chris), Lloyd Ingraham (Uncle Anthony).
by Felicia Feaster