1972 / Best Actor / Best Actress / Best Picture

Film #299: Sounder (1972)

As I approach my 300th film, I’ve started to look back a little at the movies I’ve watched so far. Some of them have stayed with me since I first watched them several years ago whilst others have already faded from my memory. One film that I feel will soon feature in that latter category is Sounder, a Best Picture nominee that I knew very little about before watching it.

It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Sounder it’s just fair inconsequential. Based on the book by William H. Armstrong, Sounder focuses on David Lee Morgan the son of two black sharecroppers. The early part of the film depicts how hard life is for David and his family and how they struggle to put food on the table. The family is soon forced to cope without its patriarch when father Nathan is arrested for stealing food. The Sounder of the title is he family’s dog who is shot by the authorities as they are taking Nathan away. The rest of the film sees David’s attempts at being the man of the household and having to cope with Sounder’s disappearance. Though boy and dog are eventually reunited, David still finds things tough and tries to tack Nathan down at a prison camp. David’s journey sees him bond with a kindly teacher who offers to educate him and give him a place to stay during the winter. The film is given a suitably happy ending when Nathan returns home to his family and is able to watch David take his first steps of becoming an educated man.

Interestingly, I discovered that several changes were made in bringing Sounder to the big screen. Firstly none of the characters in the book were given names that is apart from Sounder the dog, which is why the story is named after him. Secondly, the book has a seemingly more tragic end than this film which actually has an incredibly happy conclusion given the dour nature of the rest of the plot. Though I have no knowledge of the story at all, I did get a feeling that the ending was overly sweet in tone and guessed that it might not have been exactly the same as the book. Indeed, I do feel that if I did have some knowledge of the original story then I would’ve enjoyed Sounder more but as it is most of it just passed me by. One thing I do have to praise is the ensemble cast, all of whom gave fantastic performances. Both Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson were given Oscar nominations for their roles in the film while I feel that Kevin Hooks deserved recognition for anchoring the movie in his role of David. Martin Ritt gives assured direction throughout the course of Sounder and some of the exterior scenes are very well-handled. Indeed, as I mentioned at the start, I can find little wrong with Sounder in terms of its production values I just wasn’t blown away by anything I saw on screen. The fact that this fairly ordinary picture was nominated opposite The Godfather and Cabaret did astound me and I feel if Sounder was released today then the Academy would ignore it completely. Ultimately, Sounder is a well-acted and well-directed film which unfortunately is unmemorable primarily due to its incredibly slight story.


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