In the opening scene of the 1934 film, Our Daily Bread, a man wearing a suit and a bowler hat is singing merrily to himself as he walks up several flights of stairs. We don’t know who the man is, but we like him. He seems pleasant and cheerful, and perhaps is on his way up to his apartment to give his wife some happy report. This feels like the beginning of a comedy.

When the man arrives at the apartment and knocks on the door, he removes a paper from a folder. Suddenly, with that simple motion, we realize this isn’t a comedy and the man isn’t bearing good news.

This is confirmed by the expression of the woman who answers the knock.

“Oh,” she says, forcing a smile. “You did say you would come back today, didn’t you. Could you give us a few more days? My husband is out on a wonderful prospect. And besides, one of my relatives is coming here tonight, and I’m certain he’ll be able to help us in some way.”

The woman’s pleading has an effect.

“Old man Godske is getting pretty sore at you delinquent tenants, but I’ll try to stall him off until day after tomorrow.”

If they can’t pay by then, they’d better pack their bags, the man says,  then goes back down the stairs whistling the same tune he sang while coming up.

The husband returns with no hope of a job, and the woman’s uncle has nothing to offer but one thin opportunity. Among his holdings is an abandoned farm that the bank wants to repossess. Until the bank takes it, the couple can live on the farm for free. And if they can make the farm productive and work out a deal with the bank, they can have the place.

The two travel to the farm, which is a shambles. They set about cleaning up the house and trying to plant crops, a thing they know nothing about. The husband struggles to dig into the hard earth with a shovel, but his efforts are pitiful.

Then a fortuitous thing happens: a car breaks down in front of the property. The driver is a farmer who lost his farm and is headed west. The man invites the farmer and his wife to live on the property and share the work and the profits.

The man puts up signs inviting other travelers to join them, and soon there are twenty or more families building little houses and helping with the work.

The bulk of the story is about this makeshift commune and their struggles to plant, water, and harvest their first crop — and stave off the bank.

Americans didn’t like the movie. They said it was communist propaganda.

Communists didn’t like it, either. They said it was capitalist propaganda.

Ignore the political labels people try to hang on it. Enjoy the film for what it is. Our Daily Bread is now in the public domain and can be viewed for free on the Internet.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: