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LIFE BEGINS AT 40 (1935)


Studio head William Fox lost control of Fox Film Corporation after the stock market crash of 1929. The newly formed, rebranded 20th Century Fox survived after the Great Depression thanks in part to the popularity of its top star, Will Rogers. His homespun vehicles, in which he usually played a small-town philosopher on the side of the common man, were exactly what American audiences wanted during that period of economic upheaval. They presented an idyllic vision of small-town life as the American dream while trumpeting values of kindness and fair play. Rogers had enough power that he was able to pick his own properties, so he told Fox executives he’d like to do a film version of Walter B. Pitkin’s best-selling advice book. Then screenwriter Lamar Trotti created the story of a small-town newspaper editor who defies social leaders to help out an ex-convict (Richard Cromwell) falsely accused of stealing from the local bank. That wisp of a story provided an excuse for Rogers to take on his usual enemies, big business and blue noses. It also provided showcases for supporting players like George Barbier as the closed-minded banker, Jane Darwell as a sympathetic neighbor, Slim Summerville as the local hick and Sterling Holloway as Rogers’ sidekick. Rogers was always generous with supporting players, but they had to think fast to keep up with him. He improvised most of his dialogue and hated doing more than one take. (d. George Marshall, 85m, 35mm)

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