Cabin in the Cotton, The (1932)

“You’re sort of on the planters’ side now, and we’re the people who keep the country going.”

Synopsis:
The son (Richard Barthelmess) of a sharecropper is employed by a cotton plantation owner (Berton Churchill) whose daughter (Bette Davis) has eyes for him — but will Barthelmess join ranks with his new social class, or stay loyal to his hard-scrabble community?

Genres:

Review:
This pre-Code film by director Michael Curtiz is most notable for featuring Bette Davis in her breakthrough role, being seductively suggestive and mouthing a notorious line: “I’d like to kiss you, but I just washed my hair.” The storyline itself is an old but still-valid one of class conflict in a working town with — surprise, surprise — the owners of a cotton plantation taking systemic advantage of their employees to the point of generational destitution. Racial issues are notably muted; this is about whites versus whites, with Barthelmess literally a malleable pawn passed back and forth between two equally icky social groups. Of course, we’re meant to sympathize with the put-upon workers, who turn to theft and arson out of desperation — but it doesn’t help that they’re played (in several notable instances) as backwoods caricatures. Barthelmess’s performance is as wooden as they come, and we don’t learn enough about his hometown sweetheart (Dorothy Jordan) to root for their success as a couple. Davis really does stand out as the notable feature of this film; she would go on to be nominated for an Oscar two years and 12 films (!) later in Of Human Bondage (1934).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Notably racy pre-Code content (with Davis)

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its relevance as Davis’s breakthrough role. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Cabin in the Cotton, The (1932)”

  1. Not must-see. Not a bad film – but mostly noteworthy for the smooth, economic direction by Curtiz and, yes, some lively work by Davis in an early film.

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