Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Will Rogers, Tom Brown, Anita Louise, Henry B. Walthall, David Landau, Rochelle Hudson, Roger Imhof, Frank Melton, Charley Grapewin, Berton Churchill, Brenda Fowler, Francis Ford, Hattie McDaniel, Stepin Fetchit
Written by: Dudley Nichols, Lamar Trotti, based on a character created by Irvin S. Cobb
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 80
Date: 09/28/1934
IMDB

Judge Priest (1934)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Tiptoe Through the Juleps

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Humorist Will Rogers made many popular movies during the silent era and up to his death in a plane crash in 1935, but his most enduring are the three he made with John Ford, Doctor Bull (1933), Steamboat Round the Bend (1935) and this, which is considered the best.

When we first meet Judge "Billy" Priest, he is overseeing the trial of a chicken thief called Jeff Poindexter (Stepin Fetchit), but when the judge learns of Poindexter's secret fishing bait, off they go. From there, the plot mainly revolves around the Judge's young lawyer nephew (Tom Brown) and the pretty girl he loves (Anita Louise). But Ford actually spends more time setting up a kind of slow-going Southern atmosphere, where everyone knows everyone and it's always just about time for another mint julep.

The film is nicely relaxing and very funny; Poindexter and the Judge form a touching, bickering relationship while the Judge uses his best distractions to help his nephew out of awkward social situations. Set in the late 19th century, just after the Civil War, in a town where all the locals are still Confederate hangers-on, the film has some shocking racial references, but there's also a fondness in the way Ford presents the black characters (including future Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel) from his vantage point of 35 years later.

Judge Priest is in the public domain and widely available in cheap, shoddy DVD editions. But the real one is only available in two box sets: Fox's enormous, 21-disc Ford at Fox set, and the smaller John Ford's American Comedies set, including Up the River (1930), Doctor Bull (1933), Judge Priest, Steamboat Around the Bend (1935), When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950) and What Price Glory (1952).