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Another Sign That the Times Were Changing
by Jon Schuller

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I wrote a recent column about friendships, especially the type that goes against conventions, that defies prejudice and ignorance. Men and women who are more concerned for each other's welfare than what other people may think. Part of that is personal for me because I had good friends (and still do) and we weren't worried about how things looked. In the South of the 1930s the Jim Crow system kept whites and blacks separated everywhere. The dividing lines were both obvious and subtle. People understood when you could maybe step into the others' world, but only temporarily. The carryovers from the pre-Civil War slavery era and what followed the war led to Jim Crow and segregation. If you defied the unwritten "codes" bad things could happen to you. A film that explored the old and new South premiered in December, 1991. Fried Green Tomatoes was based on a book by Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, published in 1987. The film starred Kathy Bates as Evelyn Couch, Mary Stuart Masterson
as Imogene "Idgie" Threadgoode, Mary-Louise Parker as Ruth Jamison, Jessica Tandy as Ninny Threadgoode, Cicely Tyson as Sipsey, Stan Shaw as Big George and Gailard Sartain as Ed Couch.

Evelyn is an unhappy wife in the Birmingham, Alabama of the 1980s. She is visiting a nursing home and accidently meets an elderly lady named Ninny Threadgoode, who begins to tell her the story of a small town called Whistle Stop, the people who lived there and the café that's the center of the story. We see Evelyn gaining self-confidence as Ninny describes what happened many years earlier.

Idgie Threadgoode, a local tomboy, loses her brother, Buddy, in a train accident and retreats from the world. Buddy's girlfriend, Ruth Jamison, is asked to come and try to help Idgie. They become friends as the new women, polar opposites, become close friends. Ruth eventually leaves Whistle Stop to marry Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy) and becomes pregnant.

Frank has become abusive and eventually – after several visits - Idgie and
some friends go to Valdosta to take Ruth back to Whistle Stop. She tells Frank that if he ever tries to take Ruth back, she'll kill him. There the baby is born and named, Buddy, Jr. as Idgie tells Ruth she'll care for them. Papa Threadgoode gives Idgie money to re-open the Whistle Stop Café. Big George and Sipsy, both black, become famous for their barbecue and the café becomes popular. Idgie and Ruth let local black folks eat outside in the back of the cafe and many of the citizens don't like it.

Frank returns to kidnap his son and disappears shortly after. He's been attacked by someone but no one knows anything. Eventually, his missing truck is pulled out of the local lake but there's no body inside. Idgie is a suspect because she threatened Frank and charged, along with Big George, with his murder. The trial is convened and the Reverend Scroggins (Richard Riehle) testifies that the defendants were at a local event so they couldn't have committed the murder. The trial ends and Idgie and Big George are
free.

Ruth becomes sick with cancer and passes away. The café closes and people eventually move away. Ninny reveals that Sipsey whacked Frank with a frying pan and Big George barbecued Frank's body, feeding it to the investigator from Valdosta, Curtis Smoot (Raynor Scheine), who proclaimed it the best barbecue he'd ever eaten.

Evelyn and Ninny visit the abandoned town and the cemetary where the family's buried. There Evelyn sees a jar of honey and a note from Idgie, the Bee Charmer. She's still alive.

Fried Green Tomatoes is great movie because it not only covers 2 eras in southern history but explores how friendships develop and grow and how their strengths can overcome any obstacles – especially racial prejudice. I believe that films entertain us, but inform us, too, as they explore history and show how our country expands and contracts with every generation, making slow progress towards true democracy. That road is an uphill one but we continue to travel it, despite the difficulties, year after year.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

On the Surface, It's Calm. Below, it's Deadly

Maybe It Really Did Happen?

A Different Perspective on War

Some Movie Scenes Still Make Me Emotional

From 12 To 1

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for over 26 years.I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 47 years (as of December 22, 2015) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.


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