Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)

Agnes Moorehead, Margaret O'Brien and Edward G Robinson in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

I was looking for a different Christmas film to watch, and this gentle MGM family movie directed by Roy Rowland, set in a small Norwegian-American community in Wisconsin and released just after the end of the Second World War, fits the bill perfectly. It was recently released in Warner Archive and is also sometimes shown on TCM. (I suppose it isn’t a Christmas film strictly speaking, but a lot of the story takes place around the season.) I’m not going to write a long review but just thought I’d post a couple of pictures, a link to the amusing trailer for the film,  and a few brief thoughts – and wish everyone who visits my blog a happy and peaceful break.

Margaret O’Brien stars as a little girl living on a farm, Selma, with Edward G Robinson (playing a role worlds away from his gangster image) and Agnes Moorehead as her parents. Scripted by Dalton Trumbo from a novel by George Victor Martin, the film has a wistful quality to it and, although it is a loving portrait of small town life, it also shows the frustrations of such an existence. The story centres on Selma and the small events of her life – her games and arguments with her cousin, Arnold (Jackie “Butch” Jenkins), a late-night glimpse of a circus passing through the town and her excitement when her father tells her that the newborn calf is hers to bring up. It’s a warm family background and the relationship between Robinson, Moorehead and O’Brien is convincing and loving – the parents don’t have enough money and have to work hard, but support each other through it all.

Margaret O'Brien, Edward G Robinson and Jackie "Butch" Jenkins

But there are also enough suggestions of the adult world to stop it all becoming too sweet, in particular the recurring brief hints of a tragedy involving a mentally ill neighbour girl, Ingeborg (Dorothy Morris) – we are never told exactly what happens to her and have to fill in the gaps ourselves. There are also plenty of mentions of the war. I think the whole cast is very good, including Frances Gifford as the new school teacher and James Craig as the local newspaper editor who falls in love with her. This is really a film you have to be in the right mood for, as most of it is slow-moving and not very eventful, except for occasional dramatic set pieces like a farm fire – but I enjoyed its dreamy quality and gentle atmosphere.

 

The film has an enjoyable trailer, with a mischievous appearance by Spencer Tracy (who isn’t in the film itself) explaining that he doesn’t want to appear in a movie with O’Brien because he thinks she would steal too many scenes!

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27 thoughts on “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)

  1. I didn’t like that bit with Tracy. After he talks down to Margaret and almost makes her cry, I didn’t believe him that he would see the picture 3 times.

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    • Sorry to hear you didn’t like the trailer, Tom – sounds as if our reactions to it are very different. I thought it was quite sweet and funny and assumed Margaret was in on the joke. I’m impressed by what a fine actress she was even at that very young age. Thank you for commenting!

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  2. I watched this the last time it was on TCM and really enjoyed it. It’s quite a tearjerker. As for the “uneventful plot”: maybe it’s because I am a farmgirl, but I think it’s packed with incident! The relationship between father and daughter is very sweet. Great acting all around. As for the vague subplot about Ingeborg – I’ll just have to get the book, since apparently censorship would only allow vague hints of her troubles.

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    • Glad you enjoyed it too, Muriel – I agree there are a lot of incidents but I suppose what I meant was that most of them are on quite a small scale, which is part of the film’s appeal. (I’m from the countryside too though not from a farm.) I’m interested to hear that it was censorship that kept the Ingeborg story vague – I wondered if the scriptwriter had only included the bits that Selma half-understood, but it makes a lot of sense that it was down to censors under the code, though if anything the vagueness makes it all seem more sinister.

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  4. Hi Tom – As Margaret O’Brien was famous for her ability to cry, Cry, CRY the trailer is making a joke. Don’t worry about it.
    Ingeborg: I don’t think it’s trying to give the child’s perspective here. The conversations about Ingeborg were extremely vague even when only adults talked amongst themselves, so I think her problems were too nasty to name. But the vagueness works; we don’t need to know exactly what the problem was and we can imagine plenty. The main thing is that poor Ingeborg was always afraid and had a bad end because she suffered at the hands of those who should have cared for her. That’s what makes the viewer feel so badly for her.

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    • I’m very interested in your comments here about Ingeborg, Muriel – it hadn’t struck me that the comments are vague even in conversations between the adults, but I think you are right. I do agree that the vagueness works well and that, even though we don’t know exactly what happened to Ingeborg, as you say, “we can imagine plenty”. I haven’t seen all that many of Margaret O’Brien’s roles so didn’t know she was famous for the ability to cry, but have seen enough of her work to know she was a brilliant child actress – I’ll hope to see more of her films in future. Thank you for your comments and sorry to be slow in getting back to you.

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  5. Very out of type for Robinson. A lot of people seem to look for a Christmas movie around this time: for myself on either the 24th or 25th, evening I’ll again go for Huston’s “The Dead” (Donal McCann). I love its ending. Ellen

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    • Thank you again, Ellen – I now remember that you’ve recommended ‘The Dead’ to me in the past, but I still haven’t managed to see it. I will hope to do so soon.

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  6. “Scripted by Dalton Trumbo from a novel by George Victor Martin, the film has a wistful quality to it and, although it is a loving portrait of small town life, it also shows the frustrations of such an existence.”

    Aye Judy, I quite agree as I do with your perfect summary estimation that the film yields a “dreamy quality” and “gentle atmosphere.” Some fair comparisons could be made with Kazan’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” though that film for obvious reasons is far more edgy. While some moviegoers always grivitate towards more “plot” in films of this kind (“The Yearling” would be an example) it’s the homespun and simple qualities of the lifestyle and characters that make it fascinating. One could rightfully call the film’s structure “episodic” and there’s a coming of age quality to the character development, but one could never say this film is sugar-coated remotely; the sentimesnt is expressed here without excess, and it develops naturally from the situations. Cast against type, both Robinson and Morehead are most affecting, and Ms. O’Brien is absolutely marvelous. This film fell off the radar for a very long time until this well-deserved Warner Archive release. It’s great to see you have written such a lovely appraisal for it.

    Happy Holidays to you and yours Judy! I have been honored for another year interacting with such a wonderful person. Thanks for all the support (and insights) at WitD!

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    • Sorry to be slow in replying, Sam, but life has been fairly frantic here over Christmas – many thanks for the kind comments. “Homespun” seems just the right word to describe the word of this film, and I do agree that although there is emotion there it is never sugary. I would be interested to see more coming-of-age movies so will bear both ‘A Tree Grows In Brooklyn’ and ‘The Yearling’ in mind – I think the former of these is often shown on TV in the UK although I haven’t managed to watch it again. Thanks very much for the festive greetings and for all your support, kindness and friendship in 2010!

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  7. Seems like a very atypical Robinson type film, one that I seen listed in the Warner’s Archive but have yet to take the plunge to acquire. Coincidently, I watched my own Margaret O’Brien film (lol) this past week, (Meet Me in St. Louis”), also with Christmas elements to it.

    Judy, here’s wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas!!!

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    • I love ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ too – funnily enough just after you left this comment I heard some people talking about it on the radio and discussing Margaret O’Brien’s role in the film, all of which has made me want to see it again soon. I hope you and your family have been having a merry Christmas break too, John, and many thanks for the festive wishes!

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  8. Thank you very much to Sam, John, Ellen and Muriel for all the wonderful comments, no time to say much now as I’m dashing around clearing up and wrapping presents, but hope you all have a happy and peaceful Christmas break and I will hope to respond more in the next few days.:)

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  10. Judy,

    I enjoyed reading this review, even though I haven’t yet seen the movie. I would like to, though. I appreciate this post b/c I’ve seen the title on Warner Archive but didn’t know much about the movie. ‘Twould be nice to see Robinson in a paternal role.

    I hope you and your family will have a happy and healthy 2011!

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    • Thank you, CagneyFan. It is a very different role for Robinson and nice to see him playing a gentle father for a change.

      I hope you and your family have been enjoying the festive season and wish you a happy and healthy new year too!

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  11. Ah! If you have seen Meet Me in St Louis, you can see how well O’Brien could cry on film. O’Brien was very cute, but also very natural. A great actress! She never came across as simpering cute, just natural cute. Her first starring role was “Journey for Margaret” where she is a traumatized orphan who carries an empty anti-aircraft shell for self defense. It’s quite a tear jerker and she is amazing.

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    • Thanks very much, Muriel, it sounds like a movie I’d really like to see although I’m in the UK and we have different programming for TCM here – however I will keep my eyes open and see whether it turns up in the schedules here too! I have seen an early role of O’Brien’s in a short with James Cagney, ‘You, John Jones’, where she plays his character’s daughter and also various children caught up in wartime traumas in Europe – she is amazing in that too and was only six years old at the time.

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  12. My husband and I are big fans of classic movies. We recently watched “National Velvet” and were trying to find out more information about the adorable Jackie “Butch” Jenkins. Somehow we ended up on your page. So glad that happened. We are excited about watching “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” after reading your comments. We are huge fans of Spencer Tracy and this trailer was a little gem.

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    • Thank you very much for commenting – I’m sure you and your husband will enjoy the movie. Jackie ‘Butch’ Jenkins is very good in it, as is the whole cast… and glad you liked the trailer with Spencer Tracy too.

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  13. I love EGR Judy and have seen over 65 of his films. This is a wonderful movie and Robinson plays the gentle farmer and father quite well. There are many heartwarming scenes in here with Robinson and O’Brien. Also, the scene with the two kids rolling down the river in peril is filled with tension and it does keep you on edge.

    It is one of many films where EGR plays a non gangster role. People always I think unfairly stigmatize EGR a gangster actor, he was so much more. Dr. Ehrlichs Magic Bullet is my favorite EGR film where he plays a doctor/scientist. One great line in that film is when Dr. Ehrlich says ” we must not only continue to fight the diseases of the body but the diseases of the soul as well.” I just rewatched EGR in Disptach From Reuters, I just love them biopic films.

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    • Wow, John, I am impressed that you have seen such a lot of Robinson’s films – I’ve only seen relatively few, but he is growing on me with every one and it’s certainly true he could do so much more than play gangster roles, great as he was in those. I will watch out for Dr Ehrlich and Dispatch from Reuters too, thanks for the recommendations!

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  14. Just watched “Our Vines have Tender Grapes” and took me back to childhood movie watching. I was just 9 when I first saw it, and I relived the movie all ovewr again. Great memories. Thanks!

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  15. EGR does not call Margaret O’Brien “Selma” in the movie, although she is listed as such in the Cast of Characters. I can not seem to make out the name by which EGRobinson calls her and I have not seen it in the credits. Can you help me here?

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    • He calls her a Norwegian endearment like “darling daughter”. I believe It’s explained early in the film for the benefit of the audience.

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