It. tit.: Rotaie intorno al mondo; Sog.: dalla commedia di Winchell Smith e Frank Bacon; Scen.: Frances Marion; F.: Joseph H. August; Int.: Jay Hunt (“Lightnin’” Bill Jones), Madge Bellamy (Millie), Edythe Chapman (Jones’ mother), Wallace McDonald (John Marvin), J. Farrell MacDonald (Giudice Townsend), Ethel Clayton (Margaret Davis), Richard Travers (Raymond Thomas), James Marcus (sheriff), Otis Harlan (Zeb); Prod.: William Fox; Pri. pro.: 21 luglio 1925. 35mm. L. or.: 2453 m. L.: 2381 m. D.: 104’ a 20 f/s. Bn.
A comedy-drama filmed in the dawdling style that Ford would later indulge in for his Will Rogers films, Lightnin’ takes its cue for pacing from the lazy habits of its ironically nicknamed title character. “Lightnin’” Bill Jones, played by seventynine-year-old Jay Hunt (a former silent director himself), is a wizened drunkard whose perpetually aggravated wife (Edythe Chapman) mostly does the work in running their modest hotel and farm on the border of California and Nevada. The underpopulated Calivada Hotel caters to women seeking divorce, and one glamorous dame (Ethel Clayton) shows up, carrying on a whimsical romance with Ford regular J. Farrell MacDonald. The broad rustic comedy and Griffith-like pastoral compositions (this was the first of fourteen Ford films shot by the great cinematographer Joseph H. August) make this an amiable if sometimes exasperatingly leisurely film, a stage adaptation mostly anchored to its central setting. Ford’s affection for down-and-out oldtimers makes Lightnin’ Jones the precursor of the grizzled characters Charley Grapewin would play in The Grapes of Wrath and Tobacco Road, but mostly without the richly inventive comic flair Grapewin brings to his characters. The plot of Lightnin’, such as it is, revolves around some crooked land speculators’ attempts to con the Joneses out of their property. This leads to a painful separation of the old couple that (as in Tobacco Road) stirs Ford to deeper levels of emotion and visual poetry. The director’s characteristic devotion to home, family, and the land leads him to ennoble the previously shiftless Lightnin’ by revealing an unexpected aspect of his past and valorizing his stubborn refusal to give up his scrubby plot of land. Like Grapewin in Grapes, he could say, “It ain’t no good, but it’s mine.”