There are strong people quietly willing to do “what needs to be done” for the public good, and then there are those who enjoy insinuating that they are that sort of person, usually as justification for their self-serving, frequently racist or xenophobic actions. When the latter reaches for the Bible as back up, look out!
No one ever had more fun with this monstrous type than the writer Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic with a knack for wrapping her characters’ foul purposes in the “stinking mad shadow of Jesus.”
In her longest story “The Displaced Person,” the boorish, Bible-thumping Mrs. Shortley is not the only baddie. The refined Mrs. McIntyre, widowed mistress of the dairy operation that employs the Shortleys and a couple of African-American farmhands, is just as quick to indict those with whom she imagines herself at cross-purposes.
Transfer them to the small screen, and every actress over 40 would be clamoring for the chance to sink her teeth into one or the other.
In 1977, PBS hired playwright Horton Foote to adapt “The Displaced Person” for “The American Short Story,” and the roles of Shortley and McIntyre went to Shirley Stoler and Irene Worth, both excellent.
(See above…it’s always so much more amusing to play one of the villains than the hardworking, uncomplaining, titular character, here a Polish refugee from WWII.)
The audio quality is not the greatest, but stick with it to see Samuel L. Jackson, not quite 30, as the younger of the two farmhands.
O’Connor buffs will be interested to know that Andalusia, the writer’s own Georgia farm, served as the location for this hour-long project. (No need to rent a peacock!)
Despite the stately production values that were de rigeur for quality viewing of the period, the story retains the unmistakable tang of O’Connor—it’s a bitter, comic brew.