29 May 2016 | bkoganbing
In 1938 Walter Brennan won his Best Supporting Actor Award playing the cantankerous old horse trainer and unreconstructed civil war rebel for Kentucky. 20th Century Fox gave Brennan a chance at top billing in the same kind of role. Still cantankerous, but reconciled to the end of the Civil War in Maryland.
Brennan works for genteel horse people Sidney Blackmer and Fay Bainter who have a son who grows up to be John Payne. When during a fox hunt Blackmer falls from a horse and is killed, Bainter develops a monomania about horses whom she loved. She orders them off her place and the mare that threw her husband destroyed. She also dispenses with Brennan's services and he and granddaughter who grows up to be Brenda Joyce move off the place.
15 years pass and of course true love takes its course as Payne and Joyce meet. Brennan's developed himself quite a steeplechase horse and is entering him in the Maryland Cup.
Bainter has forbidden Payne to ride with the memory of Blackmer's death still fresh. But given where he grew up that was going to be impossible. As for the rest let's say a lot of hidden history is spilled and learned before the film concludes.
Bainter also was an Oscar winner from 1938, she was Best Supporting Actress that year for Jezebel. So the Best Supporting Actor and Actress for that year wound up top billed for Maryland. In fact it's Bainter's obsession to keep Payne away from horses and attached to her skirts is what drives the movie.
This was also John Payne's film debut with 20th Century Fox where I am convinced he was signed because he looked so much like Tyrone Power and could sing as well. Power's favorite director Henry King was in charge here and Maryland is blessed with some lush cinematography of the rural countryside where the horses are raised and raced. Payne's part looks absolutely like one that was originally written with Power in mind.
A lot of black players got roles more substantial than usual and while some stereotyping is here, the parts have some depth to them. Hattie McDaniel for instance has nearly as much depth as her Oscar winner as Mammy in Gone With The Wind the year before. Her man Ben Carter has a good heart and a nasty problem with dice. Seems like he can't pass a crap game without participating. He's also the keeper of a large amount of secrets on which the plot turns.
Maryland holds up well after over 70 years. Still a nice film for those who like horses.