Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reviving "The New Deal"

Wild River (1960) - Kazan *at Film Forum
It's the New Deal era Roosevelt America. On with the new, out with the old. But Wild River doesn't play out like that. It's much more nuanced and layered. Chuck Glover(Montgomery Clift) is a young gov't lackey sent down to Tennessee to oversee the removal/buyout of the land that would be flooded once the newly constructed dam is up and running. Everyone but one Garth family, headed by a stubborn matriarch(wonderfully played by Jo Van Fleet) is left on a small island in the river valley. Like the others before him, Glover ain't gonna change the old lady's mind. She has her life invested in the land- her house, family plot, the memories. While making unfruitful attempts to persuade the old Garth and having hard times dealing with the Southern way of life(the Federal Gov't pays the same wages to blacks and whites which is unheard of in this part of the country!!), it's the lady's young widowed granddaughter Carol(Lee Remick) Glover has his eyes on. Like the wild river, you can't tame the human drama from unfolding. Young Chuck and Carol know that things won't work out between them but they can help falling for each other.

Acting in Wild River is top notch throughout. Clift uses his sensitive girlyman image to the fullest here against roughneck backdrop and Remick as a pale-blue eyed, young sexy widow in heat comes across as fully three-dimensional. There are some really heart breaking scenes(including Carol throwing herself into speechless Chuck) to truly funny scenes(like drunken Chuck going mano-a-mano with the lady Garth). The racial tension and violence are there but never venomous or cliché. Kazan might have been a rat, but he knew how to direct his actors. It's cinemascope color photography is beautiful. The optimism of the New Deal overtakes the Wild River but it still observes astutely the melancholy of time passing.

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