I'd like to spank the Academy

Sounder (1972)

sounderDirected by Martin Ritt

I think my third grade teacher hated children. What is my evidence for this? She made us read not only The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, but also Sounder by William H. Armstrong. While both are good books (SPOILER ALERT), the beloved animal dies at the end of both books. It does not make for happy reading for eight and nine year old children. The only thing that could have made the year worse was if we had also read Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. (We read Summer of the Monkeys instead.) Because I remembered how depressing and sad that year was, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to watching Sounder. But the screenwriter was smart, and the movie ends much more happily than the book does.

So what’s the story? During the Depression, sharecroppers David Lee and his father Nathan spend their nights hunting with their dog, Sounder, hoping to get any kind of meat to put on the table. One day, in desperation, Nathan steals a ham from his work. He is arrested and sent to a work camp. The town sheriff won’t tell David Lee and his mother and younger siblings where Nathan has been sent, so David Lee and Sounder go off in search of Nathan.

The Good: There are some nice performances in this movie. Kevin Hooks did a great job of carrying the movie as David Lee, which is a hard job for a teenager. Cicely Tyson plays Rebecca, Nathan’s wife, who is determined to keep the farming going without her husband. She does a beautiful job as the tough, yet loving woman. Paul Winfield is Nathan, a man trying so hard to provide for his family in an impossible time. The major standout for me, though, was Janet MacLachlan, who plays Camille, a teacher who cares. She shone in every scene she was in.

I liked the plot. I like seeing movies about people who love each other and who try to help each other through bad times. Sounder managed to tell the story without being cheesy, which is a hard thing to do.

The Bad: Even though all the performances were lovely, and even though I liked the story of the family, I felt like the movie rambled some. There were some unnecessary scenes. Or maybe they were necessary, but they just didn’t feel like they tied in to the rest of the movie. It dragged a bit, and that made it hard for me to connect with the movie, even though I felt for the people and their plight.

The Ugly: This is a G-rated movie, and there’s not anything horribly offensive in it, but it’s sad. Black sharecroppers in the South during the Depression did not have an easy time of it. This is a so-called “family movie,” but I would suggest not letting small children watch it on their own. I think it’s a movie that parents should talk about with their children so that children can understand what the family was going through.

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Paul Winfield); best actress in a leading role (Cicely Tyson); best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium.

Comments on: "Sounder (1972)" (2)

  1. Not the ONLY thing that could have made that year worse. You could also have read “Old Yeller” and that one with the beagle (or basset hound)? I don’t actually remember if it ends tragically. I just remember hating it.

    I can’t believe your teacher had you read Steinbeck in third grade, period. We read “The Red Pony” in eighth and I STILL thought it was age-inappropriate. (We also read it right around the same time Mama Kitty was put to sleep + 9/11. Cheerful month.)

    I don’t really want to watch any of this week’s movies so far…


    • I thing the beagle one you’re thinking of (Shiloh?) didn’t come out until the next year, because I am old. But yes. Old Yeller was a possibility.

      When I told my 8th grader English teacher that we had read The Red Pony in 3rd grade, she was horrified. She said, “I have a classroom set of that, but I wouldn’t give it to 8th graders to read, let alone 3rd graders!” I guess your teacher made use of the classroom set. I’m sorry.


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