The Green Pastures (Warner) is the nearest thing there is to modern U. S. folk drama. As a stage play, it ran for five years in 203 cities. There were 1,779 performances, approximately $3,000,000 receipts. As a creative work, it originated in the mind of Roark Bradford, whose stories in Ol' Man Adam an' His Chillun supplied the manner, mood and dialog. Roark Bradford's connection with The Green Pastures has since been overshadowed by that of Marc Connelly, who was shrewd enough to see a play in Ol' Man Adam and able enough, with Author Bradford's assistance, to adapt it. When The Green Pastures ended its marathon, Warner Brothers, eager to experiment with a Negro fantasy of Heaven as they had with musicomedy, Shakespeare and the chain gang, bought the cinema rights for $100,000. Last autumn Adapter Connelly went to Hollywood for further collaboration on The Green Pastures, this time to direct it with the help of William Keighley. Last month Warners decided to show the picture first in medium-size cities throughout the U. S., where they hope it will draw the major share of its receipts. Last week in Tulsa, Okla., where the play got its warmest reception, the film had its world premiere, started breaking box-office records.
As everyone knows, The Green Pastures is a projection of the dreamy imaginings aroused in the minds of his listeners by an aged colored preacher telling Old Testament stories to a children's Sunday School. One of the strong features of the play was the poverty-stricken bareness of the Heaven it portrayed. One of the principal dangers of the cinema was that Heaven would either be improved beyond any Southern pickaninny's dream or else that the artfulness of its simplicity might seem condescending. The producers have avoided both these pitfalls. Heaven has been improved, but only slightly.
In it, to be sure, dark angels cruise about on little clouds. From the clouds, they dangle lines for catfish. God is still a shabby Negro preacher, calm, elderly and not too competent. Brash young Gabriel announces him officiously at picnics, has to be sharply cautioned about tooting prematurely on his trumpet. On Earth, Cain kills Abel, Moses is frightened by the burning bush, Noah demands two kegs of whiskey for snake bite and balancing the Ark. In Heaven, female angels dust off the wooden chairs in Jehovah's office, Abraham's grandson rubs liniment on his wings. God supervises these and a thousand more lively happenings. He has notions what to do about the Earth but the notions do not often work. He is still puzzling when the picture ends.
Richard B. Harrison, who impersonated God in the stage version of The Green Pastures, died, aged 70, a few days after his 1,657th performance. A frail, decorous and dignified old veteran of hotel service, revival meetings, Chautauquas, Actor Harrison lived his last part offstage as well as on, received so much publicity that the words "de Lawd" followed his name as regularly as though they had been some sort of degree. His cinema successor, Rex Ingram, is a different sort. No patriarch, Actor Ingram is 40. Over 6 ft., 2 in. tall and 225 lb., he is sufficiently robust to have started his cinema career as a cannibal chief in Tarzan of the Apes.