|James Stewart behind "bars" in Fools' Parade.|
Set in West Virginia in 1935, the film focuses on three men released from the Glory State Penitentiary. Mattie Appleyard, the trio's leader, spent 40 years in prison for killing three men (in self defense as we later learn). Mattie's hard labor as an inmate has earned him $25,000, which he and his friends plan to use to open a general store. Unfortunately, a local banker (who has embezzled Mattie's money) and an abusive prison guard plan to kill the ex-cons.
|The film was later retitled, presumably|
to make it sound more exciting.
James Stewart is in fine form as the rational leader of the group. Kurt Russell, who was still starring in Disney comedies, gives a likable performance as the youngest and most naive of the ex-cons. However, acting honors go to Strother Martin, who may even be better here than he was in his most famous role as the Captain in Cool Hand Luke (1967). His character has survived prison by thinking about the store they plan to open--to the point that he carries around a book to jot down notes about future inventory (e.g., if a bottle of bourbon was tasty, he notes the brand).
|A lobby card showing Anne Baxter, Russell, Martin, and Stewart.|
As I was watching Fools' Parade, I couldn't help but think about the challenges of making a film set in the Great Depression for 1971 movie-goers. For example, there's no way that Mattie could have made $25,000 during his 40 years of hard labor. To put it in perspective, $25,000 in 1935 equates to over $400,000 today. It's more likely that Mattie's savings would have been much less. So, I can see the dilemma faced by the script writers. Would the audiences of 1971 have accepted the villains murdering the convicts for an a more realistic amount, as low as maybe $8,000?
Fools' Parade will never be listed among James Stewart's best films. Yet, it's definitely worth a look so you can relish one last star turn from Stewart, plus Strother Martin in a signature role, and Kurt Russell showing the appeal that would make him a reliable star that's still making films today.