“David, you’re wonderful.”
Whenever I think of Americana I think of the South and the Midwest. I basically think of works by Mark Twain and the world he wrote about when I think of Americana. The 1921 silent film Tol’Able David is reminiscent of a Twain novel.
The Kinemon family lives and work on a farm in a small southern county called Greestream. They have been working on a farm run by a man named John Galt for years. The family consists of a mother and father and their two sons Allen and David (Richard Barthelmess) David wants to be grown up and do things just like Allen and his father.
Next door lives a girl named Esther Hatburn. She comes over to borrow some sugar just as David is chasing his dog Rocket for his pants. The dog runs with the pants over to Esther. David is embarrassed and cannot look at her. Later in the day David and Rocket are walking down the road when he sees Esther. He begins to play his harmonica and dance to get her attention.
A group of thieves and fugitives crosses the county state line. The fugitives are Iska, Luke, and Buzzard. Luke mentions that they have a cousin that does not live too far from where they are. Their cousin is Esther’s grandfather. The men are nasty to Esther and her grandfather. They plan to stay with them until things cool down over in the next county.
David’s dog goes after a cat and runs into the front of Esther’s house. Luke comes out of the house and threatens David and almost kills the boy. Esther come over to David and tells them who the men are. She does not like them at all and is afraid of them. David tells her if they give her a problem to come to him.
Allan rides what is called a hack taking the mail back and forth from the railroad as well as some passengers. One day he takes Rocket with him for a ride. Rocket sees another cat and chases it once again to the Hatburn residence. Luke kills the poor dog. Allan is furious but there is nothing he can do about it at that moment. He tells the men he will be back after work. Luke throws a large rock at Allan hitting him in the back. Allan is seriously injured. Back at the house the father asks if the passengers on the hack could take the wagon back and not tell the sheriff what has happened. The father takes out his shotgun. David gets his and wants to go get revenge. Just as the father is telling David not to go with him he clutches his chest and falls to the floor dead. David runs out of the house with his gun. His mother stops him pleading with him that he is not the man of the house if he goes there will most likely be no one to take care of the house now.
The family is forced to move into a dwelling in the village since David is too young to tend to the cattle by himself. Esther tries to say goodbye to David but he does not even want to speak to her he is so mad at her family. Sometime later Esther and her grandfather come to visit the Kinemons in the village. David just looks at them and runs to the store.
David manages to get a job at the village store. One day the owner lets him drive the hack when the driver is fired for being drunk. While riding the hack David sees Luke hanging out by the side of the road. David gets stuck and sees Luke take the mail he was supposed to deliver. He manages to get the hack free and he rides it over to the Hatburn home to get his mail. Luke steps on the bag and when David goes to pick it up Buzzard shoots him in the arm. Esther runs out of the house to get help. Luke runs after her. She fell and before Luke can take advantage of her like he has wanted to do he hears gunfire. Since David is working for the US government he has been given a gun to defend himself. He shot Buzzard and Iska. Luke comes back to find his brothers dead and attacks David.
Esther wakes up and runs for the village. Her grandfather was on his way home when he sees Esther come running. He takes her to the store where she tells everyone the men have killed David. David manages to get away from the house. He is so driven by his responsibility to drive the hack and deliver the mail he gets back on the hack and heads into town.
The men in the village were all prepared to go to the house looking for Luke, Iska, and Buzzard when they see the hack and David coming toward town. When David stops the hack he stands up with the mail back in his hand and then he passes out. His mother runs to him and holds in her arms. David is alright after he sees Esther standing over him.
Tol’Able David had a very good story. I liked how right from the moment the film started and the audience is introduced the family you could see how much they all care and love each other. Seeing that care and love, in turn, makes you care for the family. The story was tragic but it was pure literature. A reviewer on IMDB wrote that the story of Tol’Able David is poetic. The reviewer’s description was perfect the film is very poetic. Tol’Able David is a silent film I recommend seeing.