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Hard Traveling Movie Review

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Alvah Bessie (1904–85) wrote Bread and a Stone in 1941 and then watched his promising career as an Oscar-nominated screenwriter turn to ashes when he was interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee as a member of the Hollywood Ten. He went to jail for contempt of Congress and continued to write, although not in Hollywood. (He did adapt his novel The Symbol for Columbia's 1974 Connie Stevens vehicle, The Sex Symbol.) Before his death in 1985, Bessie got to see the completed version of Hard Traveling, which was adapted and directed by his son Dan. This well-intentioned effort is a movie out of its time. The life-and-death Depression issues that made Bread and a Stone so gripping to read apparently meant less to audiences in the Reaganomics era. J.E. Freeman, Ellen Geer, Barry Corbin, James Gammon, and Jim Haynie are all fine character actors, but none of them has the sort of onscreen charisma that makes us care vitally about every breath s/he takes. Even the extras in a courtroom sequence are too representative of the mid-'80s in look and manner for us to get lost in the story and transport ourselves to the times of hard traveling. I tried turning off the color and watching this in black and white once and it helped somewhat, but not entirely. While at Warner Bros., Alvah Bessie tried to persuade Bette Davis to use her influence so that the studio would buy the book. Davis seemed interested until she asked if the downbeat ending could be changed, and he told her that he wanted the ending to remain intact. That was that. In the 1940s, they didn't buy the book for the screen, and in the 1980s, they didn't have the look for the screen.

1985 (PG) 99m/C J.E. Freeman, Ellen Geer, Barry Corbin, James Gammon, Jim Haynie; D: Dan Bessie; W: Dan Bessie; C: David Myers. VHS

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