Wild River (1960)

Wild River
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Paul Osborn based on novels by William Bradford Huie and Borden Deal
1960/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Carol Garth Baldwin: You’re gettin’ awful human, aren’t yuh, Chuck?

It’s nice to have a candidate for Best New-to-Me Film of 2017 so early in the year!

The year is 1937.  We begin with documentary footage of survivors of tragic flooding on the Tennessee River and segue into our story.  Northerner Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift) works for the Tennessee Valley Authority established by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He is sent to the backwoods to convince octogenarian Ella Garth (Jo Van Cleef) to sell her family property on a river island.  Chuck’s three predecessors have all failed at this task.  The dam will be opened soon and anyone remaining on the island will be covered by several feet of water.

Ella is one tough cookie and is not about to leave the land where her late husband is buried.  Her granddaughter Carol (Lee Remick) is more amenable, especially after she falls hard for Chuck.  Chuck finally figures out a way to lure the many Black inhabitants of the island away with new jobs.  His problems double when that earns him the enmity of most of the Whites in town.  Bruce Dern made his film debut in an uncredited role as one of the good ol’ boys.

This movie belongs to its leading ladies and to Kazan’s gorgeous wide-screen compositions.  Lee Remick is exquisite in this one.  She is sexy but not a sex pot for a change, revealing a sweet and touching vulnerability.  Van Fleet disappears into her character and has most of the best lines.  I had never heard of this movie before and was very glad to have seen it.  Recommended.

Trailer – this movie is not as fixated on the sex as this makes it appear

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