Our Vines Have Tender Grapes is the story of the Jacobson family as told through the eyes of young Selma. The Jacobson’s live in the rural community of Benson Corners, Wisconsin, where Martinius Jacobson farms the land. They are a close knit loving family. Selma experiences many daily adventures along with her younger cousin Arnold who is occasionally a thorn in her side. But it is a happy idyllic life even with the daily struggles of living in a farming community.
Along with the Jacobson’s, Benson Corners is also home to newspaper editor Nels Halverson. He falls in love with the new teacher Viola Johnson. Viola comes from the big city of Milwaukee. She is just biding her time in small time environs until she can move back with her teaching experience behind her. There is also Bjorn Bjornson. His new barn is the talk of the community and the envy of Martinius. Martinius’ big dream of a modern, fully-equipped barn conflicts with his wife Bruna’s financial practicality as well as her desire for indoor plumbing. Selma’s great love is her new little calf named Elizabeth. But when tragedy befalls one of their own, Selma makes a sacrifice which will inspire all the inhabitants of Benson Corners.
I’m ashamed to admit I’ve put off watching Our Vines Have Tender Grapes for a long time now. But I’ve recently become a fan of child actress, Margaret O’Brien, so I decided to give it a go.
Oh my goodness, how I loved this little film! As I’ve come to expect, O’Brien is charming and believable as little Selma Jacobson. She carries the film well on her little shoulders and is one of very few child actors with the talent for dramatic roles like this. Her interactions with her cousin Arnold, are so realistic and remind me of my own love/hate childhood relationships with friends and cousins alike. No one can irritate you like a sibling or close cousin, but then no one inspires more loyalty and understanding either.
Edward G Robinson is just not one of my preferred actors, but he is so tender and thoughtful as the Jacobson patriarch. He is the conscience of the film. His loving, patient relationship with Selma is the kind of father all children need. As my mother would say, he is a “salt of the earth” type of character. Agnes Moorhead plays an unusual role as Bruna Jacobson, pioneer wife and mother. She is a bit brusque, but has a heart of gold.
I think one of the things about Our Vines Have Tender Grapes that really resonated with me is how closely it resembles my own family heritage. Though my parents aren’t Swedish, but German, I have heard stories from both of them about growing up in similar circumstances. They both come from a long line of farmers with roots in immigrant farming communities, where neighbors helped each other, Sunday’s were for church and rest and families were tight knit. Watching this movie really helped me imagine what their lives and those of my grandparents might have been like.
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes does not have a main plot. It is actually more a series of vignettes, portraying the day to day life of Selma and her parents. It has a slower pace, but never lags. Though there is no central theme, certain elements of the film come together for an emotional ending which literally left me in tears.
After finishing Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, I am now kicking myself for waiting so long to watch it. This film has heart and soul, something many films lack. It’s characters and story line are sweet but deep. It is a look at how average everyday people living simple lives display greatness of character. It reminds viewers that integrity, honor and sacrifice are the backbone of our country. I highly recommend it.