The Plow That Broke the Plains

Cattlemen fed the nation and brought pioneers who farmed the land. The Great War increased production and brought speculators over every inch of land.

The rains failed. The Dust Bowl was a Sahara of “high winds, and sun”. Lorentz ends with the immediate problem.

He begins with a history and a text, “this is what we did with it.”

It was extremely fortunate that the Resettlement Administration found him, his cinematographers and his composer. The high, distinct poetic style and direct witness are already redress, a measure of topsoil and the voice of reason.

Otis Ferguson of The New Republic famously opined that it was really meant for the “experimental-amateur” set. Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times, an entirely lucid observer, was already referring to it as “splendid” when he reviewed The Fight for Life.


The River

Each of the next two films Lorentz made takes up a note from the one before, here it is erosion as a massive study, again following on a history of the area, “two-thirds the continent”.

What was implied in The Plow That Broke the Plains is demonstrated here, a complete assessment of the disaster and plans already working to remedy it.

Nugent gives an extensive selection of text in his review that also demonstrates vividly the poetic force of the writing, where every drop of water in the entire area makes its way to the Mississippi.

Variety thought it meandered.


The Fight for Life

The note here from The River is the terrible poverty inflicted on a land essentially rich.

Bergman’s Nära livet follows this in due course, Nugent’s brilliant review in the New York Times says much.

The film deals directly with childbirth mortality as undiminished in a quarter-century, and dramatizes a relief clinic run on the principle that the best scientific knowledge must be brought down to cases.

The style is as straightforward as an Army training film on matters of life and death. A woman dies after giving birth, the doctor questions the result, receives further training at the clinic and saves a mother in similar circumstances.