Wednesday Editor’s Pick: “The Sun Shines Bright”

by on March 30, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Jonathan Rosenbaum for Rouge:

The Sun Shines Bright is my favourite Ford film, and I suspect that part of what makes me love it as much as I do is that it’s the opposite of Gone with the Wind in almost every way, especially in relation to the power associated with stars and money. Although I’m also extremely fond of Judge Priest, a 1934 Ford film derived from some of the same Irvin S. Cobb stories, the fact that it has a big-time Hollywood star of the period, Will Rogers, is probably the greatest single difference, and even though I love both Rogers and his performance in Judge Priest, I love The Sun Shines Bright even more because of the greater intimacy and modesty of its own scale. Apparently Ford did as well, because, along with Wagon Master – which it resembles in its low budget, its lack of stars, and its focus on community – I believe this is the film of his that he cited most often as a personal favourite.”

John Ford quoted in Tag Gallagher, John Ford: The Man and His Films, University of California Press, 1986 [ via Shooting Down Pictures]:

“Maybe there’s one that I love to look at again and again. That’s The Sun Shines Bright. That’s really my favorite. At Republic, old man [studio head Herbert] Yates didn’t know what to do with it. The picture had comedy, drama, pathos, but he didn’t understand it. His kind of picture had to have plenty of sex or violence. This one had neither, it was just a good picture. But Yates fooled around with it after I left the studio and almost ruined it.”


Nathan Lee for The Village Voice [ via Shooting Down Pictures]:

“Ford is equally revered by the masses and the most rarefied of cinephilic sensibilities. No one makes stronger images, supercharging a single look or gesture with the maximum voltage celluloid can withstand. The sweetest and gentlest film… The Sun Shines Bright, nearly sustains that energy level from beginning to end.  This 1953 political melodrama was Ford’s own personal favorite, and you can feel his love of the material in every quietly ecstatic texture and rhythm. Charles Winninger is warm, restrained, and effortlessly at ease in the role of Judge Priest, a kindly official up for election in turn-of-the-century Kentucky. He will twice do the right thing—throwing moral support behind a dead prostitute and a falsely accused black man—despite the potential effect on his campaign.”


David Phelps for MUBI:

The Sun Shines Bright is a resolutely moral film, built on the constant understanding that Ford had, like Tocqueville and William Wellman, that while America is a country built on independence and individuality, actual Americans are the most pious, self-righteous, unthinking sons-of-bitches on the planet: puritans, witch-hunters, and sheep, scared of sullying their lace and frills with the dirt their forefathers dug in. (Ford, like Renoir—another populist—can see the worst in people and love them.)”


Kevin Lee for Shooting Down Pictures:

“On formalist terms, this may very well be one of Ford’s most perfect achievements, in which he masterfully orchestrates the rites and rituals that govern a small community into a 90 minute cinematic circus. Each scene brims with Ford’s inimitably attentive playfulness with decorum, decoding and sometimes debunking the social assumptions guiding each character’s interactions, and the sheer beauty of how Ford films bodies moving through space in a civic ballet is a joy to behold.”


And here’s a two-part video essay on TSSB and Gertrud (1964) by Rosenbaum and film critic Kevin Lee of Shooting Down Pictures:




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