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I'm from Arkansas [Movie]

With a screenplay by Marcy Klauber and Joseph Carole (based on a story by Klauber), director Lew Landers attempted to blend romance, rustic Ozark comedy, and country music into the 1944 film I’m from Arkansas. Unfortunately, some of the Arkansas characters are portrayed as ignorant hillbillies, and the numerous musical numbers tend to muddle the story line.

The plot centers upon Esmeralda, a sow, who has excited the tiny town of Pitchfork, Arkansas, by giving birth to yet another massive litter of piglets. The news quickly spreads and draws a number of visitors to the town for myriad reasons. Bob Hamlin (Bruce Bennett), a citizen of Pitchfork who has become a country music star on the radio, takes his orchestra—including vocalist and Arkansan Jimmy Wakely, who is playing himself—home to Pitchfork for a vacation. Simultaneously, Willie Childs (Cliff Nazarro), the manager of a troupe of female entertainers featuring Doris (Iris Adrian), sees possible profits and brings his group to Pitchfork in hopes of playing to the crowds. Representatives of the Slowe Packing Company also arrive in town to determine the reasons for Esmeralda’s productivity, hoping to swindle the ignorant hill folks out of the secret.

While the outsiders represent various urbanites, the hill folk of Pitchfork are clearly common lower-class rural people. Ma Alden (Maude Eburne), a bonnet-wearing granny character, is the owner of the local boarding house, while Abigail “Abby” Alden (Carolina Cotton, a.k.a. Helen Hagstrom of Arkansas) is a not-too-bright young local yodeling star. While their characters are reasonable enough “country folk,” Juniper “Pa” Jenkins (Slim Summerville)—who moves and thinks slowly—and Efus Jenkins (Danny Jackson)—who is the barefoot, napping hayseed too lazy to move most of the time—represent the offensive Arkansas hillbilly image. Oly (El Brendel), a comic relief character with a Swedish accent, is simply an odd addition to the film.

Throughout the piece, a number of well-known musical acts appear. Country and western singer Wakely performs “Don’t Turn Me down Little Darlin’” and “If You Can’t Go Right, Don’t Go Wrong,” as a vocalist with the Bob Hamlin Orchestra. During the film, he also joins the Sunshine Girls for “You Are My Sunshine” and “Whistlin’ down the Lane with You.” The Bob Hamlin Orchestra also provides an instrumental cover of “Stay away from My Heart.” Carolina Cotton, playing Abby Alden, shows her impressive yodeling skills on “Yodel Mountain” and “I Love to Yodel.” Other surprising appearances include the Pied Pipers, a well-known singing group of the 1930s and 1940s, who sing “You’re the Hit of the Season,” and the Milo Twins, a popular country act, perform “Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy.” The film closes with a barn dance and the Sunshine Girls performing “Pitchfork Polka.”

Attempting to mix ten songs into a seventy-minute film based around the fictional town of Pitchfork proved a challenge for Landers. Clearly a low-budget film meant to simply showcase current musical acts, I’m from Arkansas can be viewed a number of ways. For lovers of this genre of music, it might be an enjoyable film. For those seeking a well-developed plot line, this film falls flat. For Arkansans, it is mixed. The stereotypes of Pa Jenkins and Efus are offensive, and a viewer could dwell too much on this issue. However, in the end, it is the Arkansans who realize the value of Pitchfork; led by Hamlin, an Arkansas character in the film, they save Pitchfork with the help of Doris, an outsider who finally sees the worth of the people and of their little town in the hills of Arkansas.

For additional information:
I’m from Arkansas.” Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/im_from_arkansas (accessed July 2, 2012).

I’m from Arkansas.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036941/ (accessed July 2, 2012).

Derek Allen Clements
Black River Technical College

Last Updated 9/12/2012

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