The Green Pastures (1936)

Article #913 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-14-2003
Posting Date: 2-11-2004
Directed by William Keighley and Marc Connelly
Featuring Rex Ingram, Oscar Polk, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson

Stories from the Bible are played out as envisioned in the imaginations of young black children in Sunday school.

This movie has an all-black cast, and unsurprisingly it occasionally relies on cliches and black stereotypes of the time it was made, so it will no doubt seem offensive to many. However, its virtues are quite strong indeed; for one thing, the gospel music is pretty great. For another thing, it’s one of the few biblical epics out there that doesn’t sink under the weight of it’s own pompous self-importance; the presentation is somewhat mannered, but it not only allows itself to relax on occasion, it also isn’t afraid of using humor when the opportunity arises. It also does something quite daring in allowing the character of ‘De Lawd’ (wonderfully played by Rex Ingram, who also plays other parts throughout) to grow and somewhat develop as a character throughout the proceedings; this gives the movie a compelling story arc rather than letting it feel like just a series of different stories. All in all, I have to admit that I was more entertained and moved by this one than I was by any of the other biblical epics I’ve seen. The movie also benefits from fine special effects, and the fun of seeing Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson as Noah.

One potentially sensitive issue here is whether stories based on the Bible belong in the realm of fantastic cinema; certainly, devout Christians would argue that the events portrayed are true, and such a movie should be considered historical rather than fantastic. For my part, I will simply say that any story in which miracles occur are worthy of being considered in a survey of the fantastic, so I’m including it here.


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