‘Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence’ | Sunday Observer
Retro reviews: Cinema of yesteryear

‘Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence’

28 February, 2021

An American drama movie released in 1939, written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by Ricardo Cortes, ‘Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence’is set in the time that shows how the Great Depression in the US had affected the dreams and aspirations of a young generation that sought a better life than what was handed to them.

A heart-warming story that shows how young Joe Riley played by screen icon Glenn Ford, charts his journey to his 20-acre ranch in Arizona which he has bought after having worked several years as a shop clerk in New York city and saving the money with much sacrifice. The journey is one that brings him to encounter an interesting group of people,getting into scrapes and escaping the authorities.

Option of hitchhiking

Having no money left to pay for transport to Arizona, Joe is left with only the option of hitchhiking. At a small diner along the way, Joe encounters Tony who is a drifter making do with what he finds along the way for sustenance. Tony tells Joe that he hops railway freight cars as his preferred means to get around the country while Joe says he prefers hitchhiking rides as best as he can. But outside the diner once he is ready to get back on the road, Joe gets the idea of trying to get to his next stop as a ‘stowaway’ on a supplies truck parked outside the diner.

This sudden change of strategy doesn’t prove to be successful as the truck’s driver who was also at the diner realises that the man who had just stepped out had done ‘a vanishing act’ and calls out to Joe to come out of the truck or face the threat of ‘physical consequences’.

While stepping out, Joe steps on another person who had, until then been hiding as a stowaway on the truck! Joe and the teenage boy stowaway disembark from the truck. The stowaway Joe stepped on then turns out to be a girl dressed as a boy who is also in desperate circumstances. Joe refuses to allow the young girl named is Anita Santos who is from Spain, but half American from her mother’s side, join him on his journey as he believes women bring trouble. However, fate has it that once Joe hops an empty freight car travelling in the direction he is going, Joe not only finds himself sharing the space with Tony whom he met at the diner but also Anita who literally falls onto them as she climbs down into the freight car through its roof! What follows is a forging of a trio, which through the course of unexpected events soon turns into a ‘quartet’ as they are joined by a charming, articulate, good hearted and erudite hobo who is called ‘the professor’ known to Tony from his previous travels.

Whirlwind of change

Unfortunate circumstances force this quartet to make a ‘pit stop’ of sorts at a small town after Toney gets shot while stealing some food and is in need of medical attention. What results is a quick whirlwind of change in their lives that occurs first as a long lost romance is reborn for the professor and subsequently a Russian styled marriage and wedding taking place in mere moments for Joe and Anita to escape serving a prison sentence when the local sheriff discovers Anita, who is on the list of illegal immigrants who had entered the US, who had been helped by Joe in her travel across state lines!

Following the exuberance of the evening, a new goal in life is realised for the professor to end his days as a free man living as a drifter, while a divergence of paths happens to newly married Joe and Anita although an eventual convergence occurs to open a new path of togetherness. A heart-warming and delightful story ‘Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence’ is a classic of Hollywood that can be enjoyed by the whole family.