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SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS (director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriter: from the book The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright/Stuart Anthony/Grover Jones; cinematographer: Charles B. Lang; editor: Ellsworth Hoagland; music: Gerard Carbonara; cast: John Wayne (Young Matt), Betty Field (Sammy Lane), Harry Carey (Daniel Howitt), Beulah Bondi (Aunt Mollie), James Barton (Old Matt), Samuel S. Hinds (Andy Beeler), Ward Bond (Wash Gibbs), Marjorie Main (Granny Becky), Marc Lawrence (Pete), John Qualen (Coot Royal), Fuzzy Knight (Mr. Palestrom), Tom Fadden (Jim Lane), Olin Howland (Corky); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Moss; Paramount; 1941)
“Well-acted, especially by Wayne.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Henry Hathaway directs this first talkie remake of two prior films versions of The Shepherd of the Hills filmed in 1919 and 1928. It’s based on Harold Bell Wright’s novel; the writers are Stuart Anthony and Grover Jones. It’s set in the Ozark mountains among a closely knit group of moonshiners that have been poisoned by hatred.

Matt (John Wayne) is an angry young man because his father abandoned him as a child and left his mother to die. He swears he would kill his father if he ever saw him again. Mild-mannered stranger Daniel Howitt (Harry Carey) arrives and treats Jim Lane’s (Tom Fadden) gunshot wounds. His daughter Sammy (Betty Field) is appreciative. Daniel aims to settle in the region, but is coldly greeted by Matt. Anyway, Daniel buys Moanin’ Meadow for a $1,000, the home of Matt’s mother, which angers Matt. Sammy visits Daniel and he says that Matt is his son. Later we learn he abandoned the family because he murdered a man and was sent to prison. He’s now a reformed man and has come back to make up for his mispent life and to reconcile with his son–to save him from taking the wrong path.

It plays as a Christian parable that relates how kindness can bring love into the world and change things for the better. It’s a slow moving film, not the kind the action star Wayne is usually associated with. In its own quiet way it was effective and well-acted, especially by Wayne.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”