White Bondage (1937) with Jean Muir

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1937 White Bondage

1937 White Bondage

Back in the day studios put out what today would barely be considered movies given their short length.  Mostly these were “B” pictures and included as part of a double feature.  Among these is 1937’s White Bondage, a fairly straightforward (there isn’t time for anything else here) sixty minute jaunt through Depression Era agrarian America.

We’re deep in cotton country among the sharecroppers who work Trent Talcott’s (Joe King) land.  Trent has a history of underhanded dealings with his tenant farmers, constantly inflating the amounts they’ve paid for goods in the general store he owns while at the same time underpaying for their crops by using a rigged scale.

Lead among the sharecroppers are the Craig family, led by Pop Craig (Harry Davenport) who supports his daughter Betsy (Jean Muir).  Betsy’s also engaged to Cal Sanders (Howard Phillips).  Pop is more vocal among the farmers, but all are struggling mightily.  Into this fray comes Dave Graydon (Gordon Oliver) who is a newspaper reporter masquerading as a general handyman.

Dave’s heard rumors of Trent’s underhanded ways and is seeking to prove them out, but at first he isn’t well received by any but Trent’s family.  The farmers feel he’s out to further help Trent take their hard earned money from them.  It’s only when he befriends Betsy that he begins to get some credibility with the sharecroppers.

On a tip he finds a warehouse of cotton that Trent is ready to take to market at a huge profit over what he’s paid his tennants.  Graydon confronts Talcott with his findings and that he suspects there’s a second set of books which will show the duplicity of Trent and his sister, Sarah.

A struggle ensues and Sarah knocks out Betsy in the scuffle, but the Talcott’s frame Graydon for the attack.  Forced to run, Graydon is finally caught by an irate posse of cotton farmers and all looks to end very badly as Graydon is about to be hanged.

At the last possible moment a recovered Betsy arrives with the second set of books and saves not only Graydon’s life but also reveals the dirty details of the Talcott’s dealings with the farmers.  With all the evidence now unearthed the sharecroppers get the money back that Talcott swindled from them.

White Bondage doesn’t leave a lot of meat on the bone, as under director Nick Grinde we get a tightly packaged product without any fluff.  There’s no love story to detract from the proceedings and only a little direct action.  Yet in spite of that the film strangely manages to build a nice head of steam which easily maintains interest for the short one hour running time.

The cast is good, but with the limited run time there is no time for any deep character development and most all of the characters are strictly stock.  Harry Davenport becomes the most memorable of the cast likely because of his scratchy tone and ideal personification of the country farmer.  Jean Muir as Betsy and Gordon Oliver as Dave Graydon are also fairly strong as well.

White Bondage isn’t a fine piece of art, but well worth an hour if you can find it (and the hour).