Sounder – 1972
William H. Armstrong (book)
Lonne Elder III
Review by Wayne Malin
Tale of a sharecropping family in 1933 Louisiana and what happens when the father (Paul Winfield) is sent to jail for stealing food to feed his family. It also deals with the oldest son (Kevin Hooks) coming of age. Sounder, BTW, is the name of the family dog.
Quiet, slow but ultimately very moving tale of a poor black family in the 1930s. There’s some beautiful shots here (it was shot on location in Louisiana) and very little dialogue and only occasional music. I must admit I was getting a little bored at first–I wanted the story to MOVE! But the film slowly grew on me and, after half an hour, I was hooked. The images tell the story along with some very moving Oscar-nominated performances by Winfield and Cicely Tyson (as his wife). Even young Hooks (who was only 14 when this was done) is quite good. The film slowly works on you and, by the end, I was crying my eyes out–But don’t worry–it DOES have a very happy ending.
This was a HUGE hit in 1972. It was one of the few G-rated films dealing with a black family. Unlike most other 1970s black films it had no drugs, violence, sex or swearing–this was a true rarity back then. And white, black, young and old audiences loved it. It works on all levels. It was also nominated for Best Picture. It didn’t win anything but the fact that it was nominated was enough. The cast went through hell making it. I remember, in an interview, Winfield said it was brutally hot during the whole shot, the cast was eaten alive by mosquitoes and he caught a TERRIBLE case of hay fever from all the pollen. It’s to this whole casts credit that they all give out good performances. Sadly…this film has been forgotten. That’s too bad…it should be rediscovered.
There was a sequel 3 years later (with a different cast). It was “Sounder Part 2″ but it seems nobody has ever seen it. But don’t miss this one. A perfect family film.