Set amid the scenic hills of West Virginia, Tol’able David’s opening text reads: “Behind three great ranges of mountains lay the pastoral valley of Greenstream.” What follows is a depiction of the quintessential Edenic landscape; a valley framed by partially by a gently swaying tree on the right, mountains looming comfortingly in the distance, and, nestled among these, the humble dwelling of the Kinemons. Born in 1886 in Christiansburg, VA, director Henry King’s childhood home would have mirrored the idyllic fields of Greenstream. As King himself claims: “there was a great deal of me in Tol’able David …. I knew the people. I knew what the boy’s desires were. His experiences were things I had known as a child…. I was born and raised on a farm, something like the one Tol’able David lived on.” In Greenstream’s rolling hills and small communities lies a fragment of King’s past, a piece of him autobiographical in nature.
Tol’able David is indeed a story of rural innocence; viewers are introduced to the Kinemons as the family is communally gathered in the living room of their humble cottage, the titular David intently studying a portrait of David and Goliath. While the family’s peace is soon shattered by the roguish Hatburns, the film never loses its focus on small-town
atmosphere. Indeed, the climax occurs as David desperately struggles to deliver the mail to the residents of Greenstream against the violent opposition of Luke Hatburn. As film critic Fritzi Kramer explains: “Mail is a lifeline for a rural area and the mailman has an almost sacred obligation to deliver it; the film has established this from the beginning. David cannot allow the mail sack to remain in Luke’s hands. There must be a showdown.” In the isolated valley of Greenstream, the mail merges rural Appalachia with a national identity, introducing external communication and ideas into an environment that otherwise would be devoid of such. Of the significance placed on mail delivery in Tol’able David, critic Imogen Sara Smith observes: “there was a time, apparently, when rural Americans revered the government”
King chose to film Tol’able David in Highland County, Virginia, using many of the location’s residents as extras in the film, including the county sheriff who stars as himself. Indeed, King was intent upon authenticating much of the Appalachian setting, telling starring actor Richard Barthelmess (David): “We must get the real atmosphere of the Virginia mountains. This is not a story of a feud or moonshiners and we have to go down among these people, absorb their mannerisms and ideas. In short we must live as they do; think as they do; and do as they do.” The ensuing result is a coming of age story that produces a distinctly Appalachian identity in David; a mail carrier intent upon his duty, inspired by the biblical tale of David and Goliath, and driven by an adoration for his family as well as for the other dwellers of the rural setting he inhabits.
Barron, Hal S. “Rural America on the Silent Screen.” In Agricultural History, vol. 80, no. 4, 2006, pp. 383–410.
Coppedge, Walter R. “Tol’able David and the American Heritage.” In VQR – A National Journal of Literature & Discussion, Autumn 1982.
Kramer, Fritzi. “Tol’able David Film Essay.” In National Film Preservation Board.
Smith, Imogen Sara. “Tol’able David.” San Francisco Silent Film Festival, 2017.
“Tol’able David Film.” Highland
Historical Society, 2018.
 “Tol’able David Film,” Highland Historical Society, https://www.highlandcountyhistory.com/tol-able-david-movie
 “Tol’able David and the American Heritage,” VQR – A National Journal of Literature & Discussion, https://www.vqronline.org/essay/tolable-david-and-american-heritage
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