The Plow That Broke the Plains
The Plow That Broke the Plains is a 1936 short documentary film that shows the cultivation of the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada following the Civil War and leading up to the Dust Bowl as a result of farmers' exploitation of the Great Plains' natural resources.The Plow That Broke the Plains was the first film created by the US government for commercial release and distribution through the Resettlement Administration as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal program. The Resettlement Administration recruited Pare Lorentz to produce The Plow That Broke the Plains to support its campaign of showing the public that the search for profits in the West resulted in the displacement of settlers, misuse of the land, and ultimately resulted in the dust storms that affected the Great Plains regions in the 1930s. The film was one of the most widely publicized attempts by the U.S. federal government to communicate to its citizens through motion pictures.
The Plow That Broke the Plains begins with a written prologue appearing as words on the screen that gives a physical description of the Great Plains region as well as a brief history of the plains. Following the written prologue, a map shows the outlines of the Great Plains region within the United States and the political boundaries of the states within it. The motion picture scenes are introduced by displaying the vast grasslands of the Great Plains with narrator Thomas Chalmers speaking about the weather and geographical features of the land, reiterating that the plains are a region with "high winds and sun without rivers, without steams, and with little rain." The following scene introduces the first settlers of the region, the cattle farmers. The narrator continues on, explaining that following the cattle came to the railroads bringing even more settlers who established towns and attracted additional pioneers and plowmen. The next sequences show the arrival of settlers through wagons and caravans as well as the first settlers constructing settlements and breaking the soil in order to farm. The narrator reiterates the phrase "high winds and sun without rivers, without steams, and with little rain" but ends with a warning, "settler, plow at your peril."