The Shepherd of the Hills (1941)

shepherd of the hills poster 1941 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Has some really dark parts and not a typical John Wayne film

Kind of stereotypical story

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Shepherd of the Hills

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  July 18, 1941

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

shepherd of the hills harry carey

Oh, Sarah…I am willing to spend anything to make people like me

The Moaning Meadow and the people who live around it in the Ozarks Mountains feel they are living under a curse.  With few ways to make money other than running moonshine, Young Matt (John Wayne) dreams of avenging his mother by killing his father who he believes was the cause of her young death.  When a stranger named Daniel Howitt (Harry Carey) comes to town and is helped by Matt’s love Sammy Lane (Betty Field) to buy Moaning Meadow, Howitt begins to change the town and the people in it.  Howitt is holding a secret and the secret could forever change Young Matt and his life.

Directed by Henry Hathaway, The Shepherd of the Hills is Technicolor drama.  The film is a loose adaptation of Harold Bell Wright’s 1907 novel which was previously adapted in 1919, 1928, and later in 1964.  The film was relatively well received.

shepherd of the hills harry carey john wayne blind woman

Jeez, lady. You’ve only been able to see for like two minutes and you’re judging and throwing people under the bus…have some class!

I am always hesitant going into a John Wayne picture.  Generally John Wayne movies are John Wayne movies.  He has his drawl and tough guys his way through everything.  The earlier John Wayne movies are a bit different and this John Wayne film falls into that category.

While kind of a western (simply due to the underdeveloped town), the film is largely a drama.  The story is a story of revenge, families, and bad luck.  Though it is plain and obvious that Daniel is Young Matt’s father from his first look, the movie largely circles around how Matt will handle it.  It creates a sense of foreboding over the whole picture and it plays out at a moment of happiness…which of course leads to tragedy.

John Wayne still has that John Wayne swagger and of course he gets in a fistfight because that’s what he does, but it is a little more filtered and raw.  He doesn’t seem to be entirely the “John Wayne Character” yet and that is a bit different.  Harry Carey is good as a guy who has seen trouble and is trying to make amends while Betty Fields plays the tough girl that tries to be a peacemaker.  The movie does play up the dumb yokel aspect of the movie by starting to give dimension to Matt’s family but not quite getting past a stereotype.

shepherd of the hills funeral pyre

I didn’t see the Satan worshipping sacrifice twist coming

Visually the movie looks quite good.  Technicolor films of this age always pop even more than some of the later colored pictures.  Instead of being filmed in the Ozarks, the movie was shot around Big Bear Valley in California and seems more mountainous than the real Ozarks.

The Shepherd of the Hills might not be a straight adaptation of the story, but it is a nice adaptation.  The movie eats up the landscape and has a tender heart to it that bridges on completely sappy (but then gets dark quick).  Like many of these type movies it has a rosy sunny ending (literally), but that can be forgiven…visit the hills!

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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