While King Vidor excelled at large-scale productions, his smaller films are far more fascinating, especially Our Daily Bread, his sequel to The Crowd. MGM didn’t want to make the film after The Stranger’s Return flopped in 1933, so Vidor made it himself and it was released in 1934 by United Artists.
The film can’t hold a candle to The Crowd, but it is still an artistically unique production. Karen Morley and Tom Keene play Mary and John Sims, who can’t survive in the city any longer. So, they try their hand at farming. They are terrible at it at first, but when Swedish immigrant Chris (John Qualen) drives up, John hatches an idea. He decides to invite anyone who drives past their farm to work – not for money, but for each other. He creates his own society. The rest of the film – which only runs 74 minutes – shows just how hard it is to survive.
Our Daily Bread, which coincidentally was F.W. Murnau’s original title for City Girl, shows how Vidor insisted on holding on to as many silent film techniques as he could. One could imagine that this film could be watched with “mute” on and it would still make sense. He tells the story with such simplicity, which makes it all the more beautiful. Keene and Morley give relaxed performances, adding to the film’s naturalistic atmosphere.
Sadly, Our Daily Bread is in the public domain. It was recently aired on TCM during a Vidor tribute, but it looked pretty terrible. The only advantage of the film being in PD is that it’s readily available on YouTube.