Dark Waters (1944)

Dark Watersdark waters poster
Directed by André de Toth
Written by Joan Harrison, Marian B. Cockerell, and Arthur T. Horman from an original story by Francis and Marian Cockerell
1944/USA
Benedict Bogeaus Productions
First viewing/You Tube

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt (You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life)

Is this a gothic thriller or a film noir?  Whatever, it kept me guessing until the end and I enjoyed it despite the subpar print available on YouTube.

We meet Leslie Calvin (Merle Oberon) recovering from a horrendous ordeal at sea in the hospital.  She was only one of four survivors when a German torpedo hit a freighter at sea and has been suffering terribly from PTSD.  The same sinking killed both her parents.  She seems to be recovering though and her doctor reaches out to her only relatives, an aunt and uncle she has never met.  The relatives welcome her, saying they are currently staying at an old family plantation in the bayou country of Louisiana.

No one is there to meet Leslie at the train station on her arrival, and the strain causes Leslie to faint.  Local doctor George Grover (Franchot Tone) takes her under his wing and rapidly develops a more than professional interest in her.  He takes her out to the plantation where she meets the tenant Mr. Sidney (Thomas Mitchell), her Aunt Emily (Fay Bainter) and Uncle Norbert (John Qualen), and Cleeve (Elisha Cook Jr.)  the lecherous property overseer.

dark waters

It is soon made clear to us that something mighty peculiar is afoot but Leslie is in the dark somewhat longer.  Her relatives are very protective of her fragile health and discourage any contact with the outside world.  They also draw her out about the ship sinking, further upsetting her. Then Leslie starts seeing and hearing things.  Somehow in the midst of all of this a romance with the doctor blooms.   It would be criminal to further relate the plot.

091-merle-oberon-theredlist

Well, I was sure something was wrong but not quite what it was until the third act. This alone recommends the film to me.  The performances are what one would expect from this fine group of character actors.  I cannot judge the cinematography due to the poor print quality and the YouTube video currently available contains disconcertingly unsynchronized sound that makes it kind of tough to watch.

Clip -Elisha Cook Jr. in quicksand (near the end and somewhat of a spoiler)

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