|Directed by||John Ford|
|Written by||Irvin S. Cobb|
|Produced by||Sol M. Wurtzel|
Henry B. Walthall
|Edited by||Paul Weatherwax|
|Music by||Cyril J. Mockridge|
Samuel Kaylin (uncredited)
Fox Film Corporation
|Distributed by||Fox Film Corporation|
|Box office||$1,176,000 (rentals)|
Judge Priest is a 1934 American comedy film starring Will Rogers. The film was directed by John Ford, produced by Sol M. Wurtzel in association with Fox Film, and based on humorist Irvin S. Cobb's character Judge Priest. The picture is set in post-reconstruction Kentucky and the supporting cast features Henry B. Walthall, Hattie McDaniel and Stepin Fetchit. It was remade by Ford in 1953 as The Sun Shines Bright.
In 1890, Judge Priest is an eccentric judge in a small Kentucky town. Although his wife has been dead for 19 years, he shows no interest in remarrying. He sometimes stumbles with his words, but he shows his wit. The judge, despite all his talk of being a Confederate veteran, finds his best friend to be Jeff Poindexter, a black man. Judge Priest takes pride in his tolerance for others.
The film played a major role in earning Will Rogers recognition as the number one box office star of 1934. Rogers received critical praise for his performance, some noting that Rogers fell right into the role with his heart-warming personality. Rogers managed a balance of comedic one-liners and serious dramatics. The Tulsa Daily World summed up Rogers' performance: "The star's portrayal of Judge Priest has the mark of authenticity upon it … the unique blending of unique talent with a rich and splendid role." Rogers was killed in a plane crash just a year after the release of Judge Priest.
In the role as Jeff Poindexter, director John Ford gave Stepin Fetchit some room to expand his comic performance. When Judge Priest asks Jeff why he is not wearing his shoes, Fetchit comically ad libs, "I’m saving them for when my feet wear out." Fetchit was known for attending lavish parties and causing mischief while off the studio lot. Right before the shooting of Judge Priest, Fetchit caused a commotion at a benefit show at the Apollo Theater in New York City. When he arrived back in Hollywood for the filming of Judge Priest, Fetchit's behavior was much better. In fact, only once was Fetchit late for a shoot (he had forgotten his make-up kit).
Hattie McDaniel (last name appears as "McDaniels" in the opening credits) was just beginning her trek to stardom when she shot Judge Priest. Before this film she was a relatively unknown actress. Stepin Fetchit apparently doubted her acting abilities at the beginning of the production, but soon realized he was working with a very talented performer. Director John Ford noted McDaniel's acting talents. Ford cut some of Fetchit's scenes and gave McDaniel additional scenes. This created an initial rift between these two pioneering black actors.
The film was a success at the box office. It was one of Fox's biggest hits of the year (five of the studio's seven big hits starred Rogers).
In 1998, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader included the film in his unranked list of the best American films not included on the AFI Top 100.
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