Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

Our Vines Have Tender GrapesImage via Wikipedia
To the best of my mother's memory, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes was the first movie I ever watched.  I was four years old.  To this day it is one of my favorites, and I believe that this movie is so good that it may be the best film that was ever made.  

I really mean it, so I'll say it again.  Our Vines Have Tender Grapes may be the best film that was ever made.  

I use the word "may" because I recognize that no consensus has ever been or will ever be reached on any matter of this sort, but I believe that the people who have seen the movie (not many) would be able to agree on its greatness.  It is truly remarkable.

Imagine, if you will, a step away from the computer generated effects, a pause from the deep rumbling of sound effects, a break from fantasy and imagination and busyness and clatter.  What would it be like to view a film that very simply, beautifully, peacefully, enchantingly, but realistically told a story? What if that story were about characters so genuine, so human, and so sympathetic that you could relate to them better than to your neighbors?  And if that story packed a punch so strong that it took you by the collar and held your rapt attention in its commanding grip for a full 105 minutes, at four years old?... That film would be Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

Why?  Because this film is the definitive masterpiece of filmmaking at its finest.  Filmmaking, at its essence, is the art of telling stories; it is the simple act of committing to a reel of film (digitally these days) a story. Storytelling is the art of telling a story, and "story" has been defined as "a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale."  I can't think of any story that has been more successful at interesting, amusing, and instructing the viewer than this film.  It is the triple threat of filmmaking. And the key to its greatness is simply this: its moral instruction.  

Edward G. Robinson with
"daughter"Margaret O'Brien and
"nephew" Jackie"Butch" Jenkins
Most movies express some kind of moral.  Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes you have extrapolate them, and some movies are so stupid they don't have one at all (and in those cases the moral of the story is found in the act of watching it). Our Vines Have Tender Grapes does not have a moral; it is a series of moral lessons, from start to finish.  Subtly, gem after moral gem shimmers and gleams, then fades, through the dialogue and action of the story.  

The beautiful and morally exceptional thing about this is that it is up to you, the viewer, to grasp them. You are not being hit over the head with them; there are no significant pauses or "looks exchanged."  The act of moral instruction is only valuable when the one being instructed is an active participant in gleaning the teachings, and if you are engaged while watching this movie, you will be surprised how much is packed into it. 

"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels." - Proverbs 1:5

Incomparable acting, pretty scenery, entertaining and comedic moments, timeless lessons and truths.  Our Vines Have Tender Grapes.

The Basics
Directed by Roy Rowland and based on the novel by George Victor Martin (many, many thanks go to him), this 1945 release stars Edward G. Robinson (famous for his gangster roles but unmatched in this tender performance), Margaret O'Brien (the world's best child star), Agnes Moorehead (later Endora of Bewitched), Jackie "Butch" Jenkins (the typical boy), James Craig, and Francis Gifford.  Produced by MGM in black and white at 105 minutes running time. 

The Plot
Martinius and Bruna Jacobson (Robinson and Moorehead) are raising their daughter, Selma (O'Brien) in the Norwegian community of rural Wisconsin.  She and her cousin, Arnold (Jenkins), learn life's lessons and share life's joys throughout the summer, fall, winter, and spring of 1944-1945 in the small town of Benson Junction.  

Martinius and Selma spend quality time
together over a game of checkers.
Martinius, a farmer, day dreams of a new barn over his evening pipe. Bruna, the gentle housewife with a spirit of iron, wants to see her husband happy, but fears that the stress of constructing a new bar, and the debt it would incur, would be too burdensome for him.

Arnold is too young for school and is lost when his principal playmate and cousin, Selma, begins the first grade. 

The editor of the local paper sees it as his duty to enlist.  A young school teacher from the big city learns to love the virtues of the small town.

The community learns the meaning of true generosity and pours out blessings on an unfortunate neighbor.  And it is all to do with Selma, the little girl with a heart of gold and a stubborn streak who learns wisdom from her pa and increases in understanding under his guidance. 

It is a sight to behold.

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Anonymous said...

Sounds like my kind of movie. I will definitely be watching it with my family over Christmas break when I get home. I love these posts, Cilla. Keep it up. It's great work!

A Hopeful Heart said...

Just introducing myself. I'm your newest follower. I found your blog through another classic movie blog (don't remember which one).

I am a classic movie addict and always enjoy meeting others who are as well. Hollywood just doesn't make 'em like they used to.

I do classic movie reviews on my blog on Wednesdays...though they're not really reviews, in the "real" sense. Rather, I share a snippet of a favorite movie...with the hopes that I arouse the curiousity of others and lead them into the wonderful world of classic movies.

Have a great week.

Priscilla said...

Thanks Ben! Please let me know what you think when you watch it!

Hopeful Heart:
Welcome to Reel Revival! It is a pleasure to have you following my blog. I have checked yours out and am now following it. It looks, well, lovely! :) Maybe we can work together somehow in driving people back to the classics. That would be swell.

Thanks again.

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