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Wild River

Wild River

By Patrick Samuel • July 29th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
20th Century Fox

Original release: May 31st, 1960
Running time: 110 minutes

Director: Elia Kazan
Writers: Borden Deal, Willi, am Bradford Huie, Paul Osborn

Cast: Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet

Wild River

There’s hardly anyone alive who can remember it now, but back in 1933, on May 18th, the Federal Government under FDR’s “progressive agenda”, went ahead with their plans to create the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly affected by the Great Depression. The vast scheme of regional development also involved the diverting of masses of water into valleys to protect large populations of people from the ravages of flooding rivers. Under the scheme, dams were built to harness the vast energy of the raging waters through turbines which in turn created electricity for communities that still lived without these basic amenities.

Wild River, adapted by Paul Osborn from two novels – Borden Deal’s Dunbar’s Cove and William Bradford Huie’s Mud On The Stars, focuses on the struggles between the Tennessee Valley Authority and generations-old landowners, as well as a Southern matriarchal family and their reaction to destruction of their land as the waters start to rise. Directed by one of my all-time favourite directors and starring my screen idol, Montgomery Clift, the film opens with stock news footage of the damage wreaked upon the Garthville community by a flood, in particular a heart wrenching firsthand account of a man who lost his three children.

From there it introduces us to Chuck Glover (Clift), a representative of the TVA who’s tasked with supervising the clearing of land to be flooded but must first acquire Garth Island on the Tennessee River, the last piece of property yet to be sold to the government. Chuck’s predecessor abruptly quit after being unable to convince Mrs Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet), an old hard-as-nails woman living on a small island in the middle of the valley to sell up and leave.

Wild River

With this, the stage is set for a smoldering drama that delves into the American psyche to tell a story of a time that’s now all but forgotten. Monty gives a strong performance as Chuck and fills the role many endearing nuances that no doubt come from his years of training as a method actor. Each scene he’s in contains so much raw emotion and body language and every time I watch the film I disover something I hadn’t spotted before. Alongside him is Carol Garth Baldwin (Lee Remick), Ella’s granddaughter. The young actress’ portrayal of a 23 year old widowed mother of two is another of the film’s many highlights, but it’s Van Fleet who really steals the spotlight from them both.

Van Fleet plays the character with much conviction and though she was only 45 at the time, she captures everything we need to believe her as this stubborn elderly woman. Chuck at first views her as a senile old woman when he arrives in Garthville, but it’s hard not see her point; why should anyone be forced to sell anything just becomes someone wants to buy it? As the romance tenderly develops between Chuck and Carol, the conflict between the individual and the state threatens to reach boiling point as well. Wild River The pair fight their feelings for each other and what makes it interesting is that they’re on opposite sides of the conflict as well. The dualism between Ella and Carol is played off for maximum effect; the old woman who refuses to leave her lifelong home and a young woman who begs to get out! Between them Chuck becomes both nemesis and savior.

There’s also the issue of race and the trouble Chuck gets himself into when he hires blacks to work alongside the local whites at the site. What enrages the white folks even more is that he’s willing to pay the blacks the same wages. Outrage. Kazan’s direction is masterful throughout and the film doesn’t miss a single beat and that’s down to how smoothly the scenes run. As for Ellsworth Fredericks’s cinematography, the vibrant blues, browns and greens embody the beauty and hardship of the 1930s Tennessee Valley faultlessly. It’s a film which seems to grow richer with subsequent viewings.

Along with films such as East Of Eden and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Wild River is one of those films that take you back to a time in history and draws you in with characters that you can’t help but feel moved by, and sometimes even deeply frustrated at. It fills me with a sadness that it’s not as revered as those other mentioned films, but as one that tells of the reminds us of something we should never forget; progress comes with a price.

Wild River

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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