The Southerner ★★★½

The first of Renoir's American films that I've seen (unless The River counts), and in many ways a much more dramatically coherent and attractive variant on Louisiana Story, with all that film's virtues of undiluted glimpses of the beauties of the country and (despite the use of actors) the lives of what seem like real people with none of its aggressive corporate lobbying. Independently produced and distributed by UA, it demonstrates the director's ability to bring his humanism to these shores without the dilution you'd expect in studio-era Hollywood. The film focuses on an impoverished family attempting to get a foothold in farming on an aged-out piece of property in Texas; through the changing seasons they counter various forms of strife, including violence and illness, while trying to keep their heads above water. Renoir and the cast, led by low-key character actors Zachary Scott and Betty Field, resist melodrama, crafting a story in which small changes accumulate and attain emotional heft; whatever one thinks of the hard-work-as-validation philosophy, you can hardly help but admire these characters, especially the married couple at the center, who understand one another and hold one another up with remarkable compassion and strength. Even though it isn't nearly as sophisticated or well-written, the film's realistic portrait of family life does call ahead to The River pleasantly. But the chief attraction here is Lucien Androit's photography, helping Renoir capture this expansive world as irresistibly as he did the French countryside in A Day in the Country.

A nearly unrecognizable Norman Lloyd gets one of his most memorable roles here; he looks more like Randy Quaid in Paper Moon than the guy from Saboteur!