Judge Priest (1934)
December 12, 2022 7:39 AM - Subscribe

Proud Confederate veteran Judge Priest (Will Rogers) presides over court in Fairfield, Kentucky in 1890 where Jeff Poindexter (Stepin Fetchit) is accused of chicken theft. Jeff is acquitted, thanks to the literal Confederate soldier being such a champion for tolerance, don'tyaknow. Heck, he's so nice, he even hires Jeff as a servant. There's more plot after that, mostly about who the judge's nephew is going to marry. Hattie McDaniel sings a lot.

Directed by John Ford. Written by Irvin S. Cobb, Dudley Nichols, Lamar Trotti.

80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming... everywhere. JustWatch listing.

Today, I'm going to post six movies that are problematic and/or made by/starring problematic people, but also either: have merit/are acclaimed; won some awards; are very popular; have a certain amount of cultural cachet. I'll be tagging these #problematicmovies.

This one was suggested by EmpressCallipygos, who said:
It is one of the most pandering and icky examples of the "the South was just nobly fighting for a misguided cause" trope I've ever seen... It is one of only two films I nearly gave up on halfway through...
EC's full review is here.
posted by DirtyOldTown (8 comments total)
John Ford is a great director. Will Rogers is a funny man, even when playing insultingly cornpone. Stepin Fetchit... is either a marvelous pioneer of Black film comedians, effortlessly playing the ultimate trickster, or he's a horrifying panderer who got rich setting Black folks back decades. Maybe both? I don't think I should get a vote, but it's hard to see how even someone who came down in the first camp wouldn't cringe and tug at their collar some. Hattie McDaniel is wonderful, even if in this, her first big role, really all she does is sing, clean, cook, do laundry, and sing about doing laundry.

But wow, is this film asking you to swallow a whole lot of Confederate heritage bullshit. YMMV, but it's a lot cringing to take under the guise of a light comedy, in any case.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:44 AM on December 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

And EVEN IF you set aside the whole mischegas about the Confederate heritage or the misogyny or the other stuff....there is a running gag involving a spittoon that violates laws of physics.

It's got something for everyone to hate!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:25 AM on December 12, 2022

(Also, DOT - I hope you didn't watch this? Or if you did, you at least gave yourself permission to give up mid-film?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 AM on December 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Didn't see the entire thing, no.

I just can't get around Stepin Fetchit. His weird soup of iconic pioneer comedian and toxic pandering sellout is more than my brain is able to reckon with. He's fodder for a brilliant Black academic's thesis, not some white goober on a web site pontificating.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:40 AM on December 12, 2022

Oh, the role he plays is itself an issue as well. (God, this film.....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 AM on December 12, 2022

I couldn't imagine taking the time to watch this, so I'll imagine that Judge Priest is a spin-off series from Warrior Nun.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:52 AM on December 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

I mean Will Rogers is hilarious, in his silly folksy way. And it's a John Ford picture, so you know it's well-made.

I mean, I am generally not, on a blanket basis, trying to use the #problematicmovies tag to say people shouldn't watch things. Many/most of them, people really should watch them. But this one, for me, is about 49% YEESH! and there are other John Ford things you could watch instead.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:11 AM on December 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

For the record - the other movie I nearly gave up on for the blog was a Jerry Lewis thing, and that was only because Jerry Lewis gets on my nerves. But this....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 AM on December 13, 2022

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