PARRISH (Delmer Daves, 1961)

Delmer Daves’s genial, engrossing soap opera about Connecticut River Valley tobacco wars finds ruthless Judd Raike trying to squeeze out or burn out rival plantation owners, especially Sala Post, whose employee, Ellen McLean, he woos and marries. Ellen’s son, Parrish, is mentored by both Post and Raike, giving us something of an education in tobacco farming as well. Of course, since the time of this film, anything to do with tobacco has become politically incorrect; but few viewers will be up in arms over this.
     At times it is hard to believe just how ridiculous the film is. One example: When Post hand Teet’s daughter, Lucy, identifies Parrish’s rash as tobacco poisoning, she notes that it’s like poison ivy, except that one gets it only once. A sentence later, she remarks, “The first time I got it . . . .” Another example: Speedily pulling in at night, Post’s daughter, Alison, nearly hits Parrish, to whom she explains, “I didn’t see you.” Parrish, who is 6’3” tall, is wearing white pants!
     Most of the acting is atrocious: Troy Donahue as Parrish, Karl Malden as Judd, Connie Stevens as Lucy, Diane McBain as Alison. (Clark Gable, who would have been perfect, had originally been slated to play Judd; Jane Fonda, Alison.)
     On the other hand, Claudette Colbert is gracious and charming as Ellen, and Dean Jagger is flat-out marvelous as Sala Post, earning his Oscar for 12 O’Clock High (Henry King, 1949) all over again. Whereas everyone else is playing a type, Jagger makes Post a highly specific and credible individual.
     The bottom line is this: for all its shortcomings, the film is immensely likeable. Daves keeps both the narrative and its visual form clean and spare. For all its two hours and twenty minutes, Parrish rarely falters as old-fashioned sentimental entertainment.

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