God’s Little Acre (1958)

God’s Little Acre (1958)

“It takes a man to turn on the power — not just a talker.”

In Depression-era Georgia, a deluded farmer named Ty Ty (Robert Ryan) insists that his sons Buck (Jack Lord) and Shaw (Vic Morrow) dig holes in search of hidden treasure on their property, despite justified concerns from his sharecropper (Rex Ingram) that they should be spending their energy tilling the soil instead. Meanwhile, Ty Ty hires an albino “diviner” (Michael Landon) to try to determine the actual location of the treasure; Ty Ty’s daughter “Darlin’ Jill” (Fay Spain) flirts with the rotund would-be sheriff (Buddy Hackett) of the town; Buck worries that his gorgeous wife (Tina Louise) has eyes for the husband (Aldo Ray) of his sister Rosamund (Helen Westcott); Ty Ty reluctantly requests supplemental funding from his well-to-do son Jim Leslie (Lance Fuller); and Will (Ray) wants nothing more than to turn on the lights of a local factory that has been quiet for years.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aldo Ray Films
  • Anthony Mann Films
  • Deep South
  • Family Problems
  • Farming
  • Gold Seeking
  • Marital Problems
  • Rex Ingram Films
  • Robert Ryan Films

Anthony Mann directed this adaptation of Erkine Caldwell’s notoriously racy 1933 novel, with a script credited to Philip Yordan but purportedly penned by blacklisted screenwriter Ben Maddow. In her big-screen debut, Tina Louise of “Gilligan’s Island” fame instantly shows her appeal as a kind and sexy female always willing to lend a hand around the property:

Ryan, meanwhile, is all earnestness and goofy grins as the deluded father of the family (how in the world are they actually surviving?):

His imprisonment of an unwitting albino (Landon is unrecognizable) is painfully awkward to watch (though I guess we’re meant to… laugh?):

There’s “comic relief” provided through Hackett’s mega-crush on Spain:

— who also has the hots for Landon:

— but this humor falls terribly flat; and the central subplot about Ray’s intention to open the local mill back up is severely underdeveloped (I didn’t understand its initial closure was due to wage cut protests until I read more about the novel):

What we’re mostly watching for in this film are the inevitable tensions building between Louise and Ray, who do indeed come across as hot and steamy with one another:

The film’s primary selling point is its visual beauty, with stunning b&w cinematography by Ernest Haller:

Overall, however, this film about familial tensions and power plays hasn’t really held up well — but given that it was apparently one of Mann’s personal favorites, fans of his work will of course want to check it out.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Tina Louise as Griselda
  • Ernest Haller’s cinematography

Must See?
No; skip this one unless you’re curious. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “God’s Little Acre (1958)

  1. Agreed, not must-see – though, for what it is, it’s a compelling watch and Ryan’s performance (a nice change of pace for the actor) makes it worthwhile.

    I think I can understand why Mann listed it as one of his favorites. It’s sort of a (guilt-free) guilty pleasure for me personally. As per my 6/26/20 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Gold? In the state of Georgia?!”

    ‘God’s Little Acre’ (1958): Films about poor Whites can be a tricky matter of design and treatment. One option is the Ma and Pa Kettle films – designed as comedies so outlandish that it’s almost as though poor Whites are purely fictional. As Ma and Pa, Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride succeed in making us laugh with them, not at them. Another option is what director John Ford unfortunately did with ‘Tobacco Road’ – treating his characters as little more than pathetic, brainless folk who deserve to be laughed *at*. Not that stupid people don’t exist but Ford’s film comes off as oddly cruel.

    Then there’s what Anthony Mann does with ‘GLA’: he takes things seriously, giving the misguided, struggling family compassion and understanding.

    Patriarch Ty Ty Walden (Robert Ryan), along with a few of his sons, has been looking for gold on his property for years – while others in town (many of them laid off from the town’s only industry: cotton) have turned to farming. While we’re wondering how food always manages to be on the Walden table, there are subplots involving the love lives of the grown Walden kids: an adorable bumbler running for sheriff (Buddy Hackett) is after a daughter (Fay Spain) who’s a tease; in the sizzling element, the wife (Tina Louise) of an insanely jealous son (Jack Lord) still pines for an ex-bf (Aldo Ray). Throughout, what’s most impressive is Ryan. He imbues Ty Ty with a fierce conviction that makes him riveting, honorable and sympathetic… even if he is foolish.

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