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Martin Ritt’s 1972 adaptation of the beloved children’s novel by William H. Armstrong is one of the most powerful family films ever made. It is set in Depression-era Louisiana, where a proud father (Paul Winfield) poaches game to feed his wife (Cicely Tyson) and children and winds up on a chain gang. The core of the narrative is the journey his son (Kevin Hooks) takes to try to find him. The boy doesn’t locate his dad, but he finds a mentor, a young black schoolteacher (Janet MacLachlan), who holds out the priceless gift of education. Everything about the film is memorable, from the dialogue to the cinematography to the folk-blues score by Taj Mahal (who has a small comic role) and Lightnin’ Hopkins.


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