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Judge Priest (1934)


Gotta give it to the costume department for making the Judge look like Colonel Sanders and the priest look like a Confederate soldier...

Genre: Period Drama Comedy

Starring: Will Rogers, David Landau (She Done Him Wrong; Horse Feathers)

Directed By: John Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; Rio Grande)

Overview: A friendly, laid back southerner plays matchmaker to his nephew and judge to his town.


Stepin Fetchit is the name of the controversial African-American 1930s actor who made his fame (infamy?) by playing the persona of the 'coon', the black stereotype marked by laziness and stupidity. Some tout this man as a trailblazer for other black actors since he became the first African-American superstar and millionaire. Others claimed his character was so popularly misunderstood by white audiences that Fetchit may have single-handedly championed this stereotype into the modern day. All this to say that Fetchit's life was far more entertaining than his role in Judge Priest, and of all characters that would invite plot elements, the most unnecessary. I even read that other films that have scenes with this character often have him edited right out, regardless of his importance to the narrative.  
Rating: 7


Some films paved the way for innovation, others threw the towel of quality into the ring in favour for making mediocre cinema. This falls somewhere in the middle.  The sets had an all-too theatrical feel to them, and though the transition to talkies is well on its way with this one, Judge Priest certainly doesn't pride itself in stunning visuals.
Rating: 6


If it's one thing I've learned about scriptwriting, it's that exposition has become my worst enemy. Judge Priest does what it can to set up back-story without being too obvious, but the feeling that I was watching a play for the whole first half of the film has got to be one of the things I dread most about Old Film. I will, however, place the final concluding speech among the best I've heard.  It ties up all the loose ends ever so perfectly, and is so full inspirational dialogue that you almost wish the South had won the Civil War. That one speech redeems the whole film.
Rating: 7


I don't think I've ever been witness to a twist in a film where all the boring drivel that has come before could be such a solid foundation to a brilliant conclusion to this courtroom drama. It's astounding how they managed to pull it off.
Rating: 7


In case you were brought up in a cage or homeschooled by wolves, you might not know that the 30s was a time called The Great Depression. Besides drought, there was economic collapse to the point that people were hurling themselves out of windows with despair. For that reason, one must take a film pegged as a 'Comedy' in the 30s with a grain of salt. As watching people starve to death would tend to heighten the bell curve of humour comparatively, you might want to take the lack of laughs into perspective. What you shouldn't forgive is when the courtroom bursts out laughing at every lame one-liner comeback or trip over a spittoon. That's almost as bad as ending a show with everyone laughing because it was all a dream.
Rating: 5

Fetchit is also renowned for playing the first uptown Playa' Pimp (minus Sceptered Cane)

Overall Rating: 64% (I Must Give A Harsh Sentence)

I knew going in that for some reason or another it just wouldn't be my cup of tea, and I was glad it was only 81 minutes. Girlfriend of Squish decided doing something else was less boring, and for a while there I pined for such freedom. This could have been the best 40-minute short even made, if they'd just stuck to the plot without adding the unnecessary, regardless of the Confederate flag-waving. Even thought this film smacks too much of the old ignint Southern mentality, wonderfully vilified by the 'minstrel show'... Ah memories of Mickey Rooney in Blackface...

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It is hard to miss the similarities between the Will Rogers portrayal of Judge Priest and Andy Griffith's Andy Taylor character from his popular 60s TV series. The homespun wisdom that links one to the other is undeniable. It is also hard to deny the entertainment value of Stepin Fetchit.  It's a shame that modern standards relegate his incredible talent to the level of offensive schtick..  He was brilliant in "Judge Priest", and despite the comments of our venerable host, I found his scenes to be a highlight of the movie.

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