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With: Charles Winninger, Arleen Whelan, John Russell, Stepin Fetchit, Russell Simpson, Ludwig Stossel, Francis Ford, Paul Hurst, Mitchell Lewis, Grant Withers, Milburn Stone, Dorothy Jordan, Elzie Emanuel, Henry O'Neill, Slim Pickens
Written by: Laurence Stallings, based on stories by Irvin S. Cobb
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 100
Date: 04/01/1953

The Sun Shines Bright (1953)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Judge Report

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many movie buffs know how John Ford made a deal with low-budget "B" picture studio Republic Pictures to finance his dream project The Quiet Man in exchange for making another of his popular "Calvary" films, Rio Grande. What nobody talks about is that he made a third movie at Republic, another low-budget, black-and-white item, but a film that Ford would eventually name as one of his personal favorites of all his films, The Sun Shines Bright.

Like Ford's Judge Priest (1934), The Sun Shines Bright is based on stories by Irvin S. Cobb and features the same lead character. Judge Priest is a turn-of-the-century small town judge, a drinker, and a Confederate. In several intertwining storylines, the judge tries to protect a black youth from an angry mob, and appears at the funeral of an ex-prostitute on the morning of the election. Also, in a sweet subplot, a pretty outcast (Arleen Whelan) finds true love against the odds. Stepin Fetchit plays the Judge's manservant, reprising the same role from Judge Priest.

Many believe that Ford was a right-winger, but in reality he had many liberal leanings. Some critics, including Jonathan Rosenbaum, believed that Priest's fair treatment of the downtrodden and outcast meshed with Ford's idealized vision of himself. Thus, it could be his most personal film. Moreover, the main reason Ford remade his earlier film was to try to get certain points across (specifically about race) that were censored from the first version.

Aside from all this, The Sun Shines Bright is a marvelously entertaining film, laid back and effortlessly told, despite the social commentary and intertwining subplots. It shows how masterful and poetic Ford really was, especially when he was on home territory. Oddly, Ford made another film that same year, a big-budget, full-color adventure/romance, Mogambo. It was a film for hire, and yet Ford managed to find similar moments of poetry and personality. These two extremes demonstrate just why he was one of the best, if not the very best, there ever was.

To the best of my knowledge, The Sun Shines Bright has never been released on video in the United States, not VHS, Beta, Laserdisc, DVD or anything else. In 2013, Olive Films has given us a treat with brand new DVD and Blu-ray editions. There are no extras, but the quality is beautiful, and it's very welcome.

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