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Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive, with funding from The Packard Humanities Institute.

The Forgotten Village (1941)

The Forgotten Village (1941)
March 14, 2011 - 7:30 pm
Jeffrey Bickel, UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Directed by Herbert Kline

Pan-American Films, Inc./Mayer-Burstyn, Inc. Producer: H. Kline. Screenwriter: John Steinbeck. Cinematographer: Alexander Hackensmid, With: Burgess Meredith (narrator). 35mm, b/w, 67 min.

John Steinbeck once remarked that most documentaries concerned large groups of people but that audiences could better identify with individuals. In his first work written for the screen and his only screen documentary (actually more of a docudrama told in the form of a parable), Steinbeck concentrates on one symbolic family. An indigenous couple, Ventura and Esperanza, live with their six children in the small and remote pueblo of Santiago, somewhere on the central plateau of Mexico. The film focuses on their oldest son, Juan Diego, who attempts to bridge two very different worlds, one traditional and one modern. Through an idealistic young teacher at the government school in his village, Juan Diego is introduced to modern science. As an outbreak of a mysterious disease begins to affect his family and the village around him, Juan Diego struggles to overcome ancient superstitions and tries to save his small community from suffering and death.

Steinbeck became involved in the project when friends introduced him to Herbert Kline, a distinguished young director who had recently directed four anti-fascist documentaries. Steinbeck wrote what he called an elastic story that could be stretched to fill the circumstances the film team found when they moved into a real back country village. The Forgotten Village was filmed in the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala, Mexico for $35,000, using a non-professional cast of mostly indigenous residents of the region. As none of the villagers could speak Spanish, much less English, a narrator was used to tell the story. Originally, Spencer Tracy was to do the narration, but, at the last moment, MGM reneged on releasing him from his contract. He was replaced by Burgess Meredith.

The film was to have had its world premiere on September 9, 1941 at the Belmont Theatre in New York City. In August, the New York State Board of Censors refused to license the film for public exhibition, objecting to a child birth scene that it characterized as “indecent” and “inhuman”. Luckily, the ban was overturned on appeal, and the film opened, uncensored, at the Belmont Theatre on November 18, 1941. It opened to good reviews and a modest box office, but, unfortunately, Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into the war diffused its impact.

Jeffrey Bickel

Preservation from the original 35mm nitrate picture and soundtrack negatives from the Stanford Theatre Foundation Collection and a 35mm nitrate fine grain master positive from MOMA. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Film Technology Company, Inc., DJ Audio, Inc. and Audio Mechanics. Special thanks to: Mary Keene, Anne Mora.

Preceded by:

Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute

Mexico in the Hearst Metrotone News Collection (1930s and 1940s)

Steinbeck had a deep fascination with themes that convey a strong social message. At the beginning of the 1940’s, Mexico was still alive with social activism. The continued extension of the Mexican Revolution into the countryside became the theme of The Forgotten Village. In order to give some background on the social and political situation in Mexico during this era, tonight’s program will include highlights from the Hearst Metrotone News collection’s coverage of Mexico during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Program Running Time: approximately 30 minutes

Jeffrey Bickel

Selections include:

Anti-Garrido Party, Mexico (excerpt from 6-287; July 22,1935)
Mexico Exiles Ex-President (excerpt 7-259; April 13, 1936) 
Leon Trotsky Finds Haven in Mexico (excerpt 8-235; January 18, 1937) 
Trotsky Interview (HVMc3356r1, 15390; 1937)
New Oil Management in Mexico (HVMc828r1, 22351; 1938) 
Mexico Hails President, Friend of U.S. (excerpt 12-223; December 2, 1940)
Mexican Army Allied With Yanks! (13-239; January 26, 1942)

Preserved from the original 35mm nitrate picture negatives and 35mm nitrate composite prints from the Hearst Metrotone News collection.

Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Film Technology Company, Inc., DJ Audio, Inc. and Audio Mechanics. 

Special thanks to: King Features.