Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
This is a story of family life in an immigrant farming community during World War II in Wisconsin. Edward G. Robinson plays Martinius Jacobson the father of the family whose story is featured to give the audience a feel for this particular slice of life. Agnes Moorehead in a more sympathetic role than usual is his wife Bruna. Their daughter Selma is played by 7 (really 8;-) year-old Margaret O’Brien one year after Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Selma who is called something Norwegian by her father which I dare not attempt to spell has a 5-year old best friend Arnold played by Jackie “Butch” Jenkins.
The film begins with Selma and Arnold out walking and playing during the summer months. When Selma accidentally kills a squirrel (giving O’Brien a chance to shed her trademark tears) we get a feel for the sensitive caring yet intelligent child that she is. When the two run across a teenage girl who’s “not quite right in the head” we learn a little more about them. But other than the interaction between the two children it is their relationship to the adults (and more specifically Selma’s to her parents) that is the film’s focus.
In an atypical role for Robinson his Martinius is a sensitive yet wise man that fawns over his daughter but without spoiling her. There is a scene in which Selma will not share her new birthday skates with Arnold even after being told to do so by her mother (Moorehead) who then asks Martinius to intervene. Though initially reluctant and obviously preferring her to take care of it he threatens to send his daughter to bed without dinner if she won’t share. When Selma is willing to do that he makes her give the skates to Arnold as a gift for her selfishness and then sends her to bed as well. Later that night as she pleads for him to at least give her a kiss goodnight though he is uncomfortable about it he holds firm. It is then Moorehead who gives him an out when she shows him that the circus will be going through town the next morning at 4 AM. He later awakens her and when he takes her must pay a reluctant circus man all the money on his person $4 (about $42 in 2004 dollars!) to let her see an elephant.
There are more touching scenes like this sprinkled throughout the film including a “Story of Christmas” recital and a couple of instances which demonstrate the community coming together for the common good both on account of Selma. There is also a side story “romance” involving the town’s newspaper editor played by James Craig and its school teacher played by Frances Gifford which help make the overall experience of this film even richer for the viewer. In fact it left me with both a nostalgic and a melancholy (for “days gone by”) feeling.
The only reservation that I have at all about completely recommending this film for a family movie night viewing is a tragic scene which involves the necessary and humane killing of livestock to prevent their further suffering.