Archive for July 16th, 2015

sounder 1

by Sam Juliano

William H. Armstrong’s Sounder won the 1970 Newbery Medal and was in short order adapted for the screen.  The story focused on African-American sharecroppers living and working in 1933 Louisiana at the height of the Great Depression, and was helmed by the former blacklisted director Martin Ritt, whose specialty was intimate, homespun southern dramas, of which Hud (1963) was the most celebrated.  Though there are some significant differences between the novel and the film, most of what is presented on screen is faithful to the source material.

The Morgans – Nathan, Rebecca and the children David Lee, Earl and Josie May are barely scraping by as sharecroppers for an uncompromising store owner, Mr. Perkins, who also owns the shanty and the land they inhabit.  As the film’s credits unfold, the father and oldest son hunt for coon.  The motivation isn’t recreational indulgence, but to have that rarest of commodities – meat on the table.  After a chase through the woods, assisted by the family’s beloved mixed breed coon hound, Sounder.  The father misses his target, but comes home to an understanding wife who still ladles out soup, shrugging off yet another episode of hunting futility.  Nathan is bitter that the family’s rigorous labor is accomplished solely to make the smug Perkins richer, while they all flirt with starvation.  The next morning Rebecca finds a ham and some sausage in the kitchen, which she promptly prepares, asking no questions.  The origin of the culinary windfall is painfully clear, but the delighted family indulge.  Rebecca asks David where he was the previous night, and the father, in the tradition of Jean Valjean answers “I did what I had to do.”

David attends school, and is relegated to the back of the classroom with other black children.  He later brings his siblings along for a visit to the kindly Mrs. Rita Boatwright, a laundry customer of Rebecca, who works overtime to supplement the family’s meager income.  Compassionate and without a prejudicial bone in her body, Mrs. Boatwright lends David her copy of The Three Musketeers, recommending that they discuss it when he is done.  The kids later gleefully witness their father pitch a winning baseball game.  Then disaster strikes when Nathan is arrested and handcuffed by Sheriff Young and his deputy for stealing the ham from a neighbor.  Sounder breaks loose from David’s hold and runs after the sheriff’s truck, as the deputy takes aim with his shotgun.  Just as he shoots, Nathan interferes by jerking his leg to prevent a fatal shot.  Sounder is bloodied and limps off into the woods as David tries to follow.  He eventually loses the pursuit.  Rebecca leaves to walk many miles to see her husband in the jail, but is told by the Sheriff that black woman are forbidden to visit their jailed husbands.   She stops by the general store to exchange walnuts for the ingredients to bake a cake where Perkins reprimands her for her husband’s bout with the law, telling her it made him look bad.  He tells Rebecca that her and her family must do the cropping on their own if Nathan is not released by the spring, and Rebecca agrees with some veiled sarcasm about their obligations to Perkins. (more…)

Read Full Post »