One way of surviving a winter night is to find an enjoyable movie or television show to watch. When you combine this pleasure with your farming livelihood, you can find some interesting (and not always accurate) moments. Here is our list of memorable depictions of American farmers and farming.

 

1 - Wizard of Oz, 1939

The American movie classic has reached such a level of popularity it is difficult to find anyone under five years of age who has not viewed the journey of Dorothy and her friends multiple times. The striking images and memorable tunes obscure the fact that the 1939 movie was based upon L. Frank Baum’s 1900 allegorical story of American politics and economics. Few fans really care or understand the “real” meaning because the movie is such an entertaining spectacle.  

 

2 - The Grapes of Wrath, 1940

The John Ford-directed movie captures the sense of despair and desolation of John Steinbeck’s original novel. Although its depictions of agriculture are sparse and foreboding, it still has the power to move even a cynical viewer. You can almost feel the dust on your skin.

 

3 - Tobacco Road, 1941

This is another John Ford-directed movie (this one from 1941), but it remains largely forgotten. This adaptation of an Erskine Caldwell novel was an eagerly awaited movie about the pull of tradition versus progress and community versus greed in the rural South. The movie unfortunately stretched regional and rural stereotypes to the breaking point. The humor is more painful then rollicking.

 

4 - The Egg and I, 1947

This movie is one of the best examples of the sub-genre that could be called the “accidental famer.” A man announces to his bride on their wedding night that he has bought an egg farm. The rest of the movie is the struggle between the rural enthusiast (the husband) and the urban sophisticate (the wife). Along the way, they meet an assortment of colorful rural folk — most notably Ma and Pa Kettle who eventually become stars of a whole series of movies during the late 1940s into the 1950s. Once again, the rural bumpkin stereotype is widespread, but at least some of the humor remains.

 

5 - Lassie, 1957–1964

The famous television collie has had more lives than a cat. The height of the series featured the adventures of a boy, Timmy Martin, and his dog surrounded by wilderness and farms. Timmy’s uncanny ability to find danger was coupled with Lassie’s supernatural intelligence. As could be expected, all human characters supported the canine star. Yet, surprisingly, farmers and other rural people often were portrayed with more complexity — for instance being concerned with their natural environment or physical decline — than most other fictional representations of the time.

 

6 - Green Acres, 1965–1971

This series represented both a culmination and departure from the standard “accidental” farmer comedy. Here, the successful attorney (who just wants to be a farmer) and his exotic foreign-born wife (who does not) depart the big city to take up “country living.”  Many of their new neighbors are exotic rural folks with either dolt-like intelligence or bizarre habits. What rescues the series is the quality of the lead acting and the pure weirdness of the story, best exemplified by Arnold Ziffel, a pig with amazing human qualities who is accepted by all of his rural neighbors as one of them. Overall, the show is enjoyable when taken in moderate dosage.

 

7 - Little House on the Prairie, 1974–1983

Based on the successful Little House books series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this television series followed the Ingalls family through thick and thin times on the Minnesota frontier of the 1870s. The series lacked the lush description and powerful, patient prose of the books.

 

8 - Field of Dreams, 1989

This 1989 movie ranks near the top of all movies involving American agriculture. Although the central character is a struggling farmer, Ray Kinsella, the true star is the lush, green, tall corn at the edge of a baseball diamond. The story is about how Ray hears a voice to create his very own corn set-aside program as he turns a part of his fields into a baseball diamond. Ray then follows the voices on a cross-country journey. Through all the characters we find out about loss, memories, reconciliation and redemption. These themes come together in an Iowa cornfield as first long-departed baseball heroes and eventually Ray’s departed father emerge out of the corn’s obscurity into the “field of dreams.” The corn deserves a best supporting role in making the movie both believable and mythical. Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.