Life in 1915 For A Knoxville Family.
Betty Burks | Knoxville, TN | 10/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Produced as a Hallmark Hall of Fame production on PBS, this re-creation of James Agee's novel was filmed in Franklin, in Middle Tennessee, just South of Nashville. The book was set in Knoxville, so it riled a few of the locals for this well-documented production to be filmed away from here. In the Seventies, there was a movie made called "All The Way Home" about this very same book. Eddie Sisk, a lawyer I worked for in Pulaski, was a student at UT-K at the time and had the 'stand-in' slot for Robert Preston. Jean Simmons played wife Mary.
In the PBS Special, David Alford had one of the lead roles and was perfect for the part of the artist brother. I knew him when he was but a lad, growing up in Pulaski, where his dad was Dean at Martin College. The other actors were all superb and followed the play as it should be presented. Rufus was darling as he craved an 'older-boys' cap.
Agee had an obsession about Chaplain (a new book is out about this fact) and so, in the book, he had Jay to take son Rufus to see a Chaplain movie at the Majestic Theater near the Roxy. On the way home, they stop by the bar, as Agee was a drinking fellow. This story is the last he wrote and it was autobiographical -- said it was killing him. All the while, it was the liquor.
When they visited the relatives in LaFollette, they were the same as mine in Knoxville -- a strange old aunt who was so fierce it scared the children. The wrong member of the family dies, and causes a tragedy for everyone, especially six-year-old Rufus who had to grow up suddenly.
The setting in Franklin was so much like Knoxville in the earlier film that it would not be noticeable had no one made an issue. As the artist, David Alford, excelled as an actor. Of course, I am being partial.
After thirty years, it was a privilege for Tennessee to be honored with this British performance which was kind enough to use local actors. It is a superior film and worth watching for Agee fans and those who want to know something about him."
A Death in the Family
H. F. Corbin | 01/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A Death in the family is an awesome movie with great actors/actresses. The actors/actresses did an outstanding job with presenting the characters as the novel did. I felt that the movie was 100% better than the novel!"
Bland and Disappointing
H. F. Corbin | ATLANTA, GA USA | 02/08/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"James Agee's A DEATH IN THE FAMILY is one of the great American novels of the 20th Century. Published in 1957 and winner of the Pulitzer the next year the novel is a near perfect account of the loss a family suffers when the father Jay Follett dies in a freak accident in 1915 in Knoxville. Sad to say, this PBS movie does not do the novel justice.
Here are some of the things that bother me about what should have been a great movie. First, Annabeth Gish, wearing a long wig that gives her the appearance of Loretta Lynn, is so miscast as Mary, Jay's wife. Furthermore, I heard not a Southern accent in the entire movie. There is a recognizable Knoxville accent-- Senator Howard Baker's is a perfect example-- and I should know since I grew up in that area. I understand that authentic Southern accents are difficult to pull off, but a generic one would have been better than nothing. These characters could have been from about anywhere in the United States. Then there is Agee's beautiful language. Apparently the writers thought they could improve on his dialogue, an unwise decision on their part. There is a poignent moment in the novel where Mary's father gives her loving advice on how she will get through this awful ordeal. I kept listening for Agee's to-the-bone language, to no avail. To their credit, however, the writers included the conversation between Rufus, the young son of the Folletts, and Mary's brother at the end of the movie. The uncle tells Rufus of the butterly that lit on his father's coffin as it was being lowered until the ground and then flew up into the sky; and he reminds Rufus and the viewer that there was more of God in that butterly than in the words of the Catholic priest, Father Jackson, who had refused to do the standard reading over the deceased because he was not a member of the Catholic Church.
A really fine film "All The Way Home," based on Agee's novel and starring Robert Preston and Jean Simmons was released in 1963. Apparently it is out of print. It puts this movie to shame."