, 81min, OF
In a 1972 interview, John Ford claimed that this slice of Americana, starring Will Rogers as the title character, was his favorite among his films. Certainly Rogers rarely found a part better suited to him than that of this humorous, commonsensical small-town justice. Essentially a string of anecdotes connected by the humor of the judge, <i>Judge Priest</i> features a plot that revolves around the legitimacy of Ellie May Gillespie (Anita Louise), a pretty orphan sought after by the judge's nephew, Rome (Tom Brown), a young lawyer. During a warm (quintessentially Fordian) monologue at his wife's grave, the judge glimpses local blacksmith Bob Gillis (David Landau) putting flowers by the grave of Ellie May's mother. When the aging Gillis gets into a brawl with three young men after they've cast public aspersion on Ellie May's virtue, the leader of the young men, Talley (Frank Melton), takes Gillis to court. Since Rome is defending Gillis, Judge Priest must excuse himself from the process. Despite Rome's best efforts, Gillis refuses to reveal his motives for defending the girl's reputation. Perhaps only Judge Priest can solve the problem. The highlight of this extremely enjoyable character-based comedy is the performance of the great monologuist Rogers, who spreads his wings wide in a role where he is basically playing himself. The unfortunate racist stereotyping built into small roles played by Stepin Fetchit and Hattie McDaniel offer an illuminating, albeit painful, window into a grotesque (and widespread) convention of the period.