Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The annual Wild River review, now its on Blu-ray ...

WILD RIVER – what a blissful way to spend an afternoon, re-watching Kazan’s 1960 WILD RIVER – it is so perfect and involving one loses track of time - particularly now on a "Masters of Cinema" dual-format Blu-ray, where it looks mint new, I would not change a frame of it.  Clift is quite animated here (after walking like a zombie through SUDDDENLY LAST SUMMER in '59 after that road accident during RAINTREE COUNTY...), perhaps Kazan had better rapport with him than Huston for his next two (THE MISFITS where he is really side-lined for most of the film, and FREUD). He is the Tennessee Valley Authority man who arrives to oversee the flooding of an island and the removal of the owners before the land is flooded to harness the river - this is the rural Deep South in the depressed 1930s ...
The revelations here though are Lee Remick and Jo Van Fleet. Lee is utterly spellbinding in every scene as her emotionally stunted widow comes back to life, she and Clift are such a perfect team. There is that marvellously nuanced scene where they return to the house she lived in with her late husband ... Then there is Jo Van Fleet, 45 playing over 80 as the old Ella Garth. There should have been at  least nominations for them.
Jo Van Fleet & Lee Remick
The plot is dreamlike and takes it’s time as we get used to the TVA and the locals (and the thorny subject of equal pay for black and white) and Ella’s island and her stubbornness in not wanting to leave her land. It has to be my favourite Kazan [I used to be obsessed about EAST OF EDEN, maybe now it will be WILD RIVER - I was never bothered about SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS as much, maybe I should return to it]. Bruce Dern is an uncredited extra and that 1930s rural poverty is so tangible it permeates everything. The poster tried to makes it look like an actioner, but it is mainly a quiet, reflective film. It may be my favourite Clift role (apart from THE HEIRESSFROM HERE TO ETERNITYA PLACE IN THE SUN), he hardly strikes one as the action hero as he squares up to the local bullies ... Remick too, after Kazan introduced her in A FACE IN THE CROWD in '57 has one of her best roles, right after her sexy Laura Manion in 1959's hit  ANATOMY OF A MURDER... (Remick label).

Kazan's drama combines a lyrical romance worthy of D.W. Griffith or John Ford with the natural poetry of Robert Flaherty, as we are almost in that early 20th century Americana period of silent films, in a very convincing 1930s setting as outsider Clift and wistful, vulnerable widow Remick are drawn together and find the resolve to stand up for themselves. It is a great Fox Cinemascope film too from that great era of Fox films, often from literary sources (HEMINGWAY'S ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG MANTHE SUN ALSO RISESTHE DIARY OF ANNE FRANKNO DOWN PAYMENTTHE WARWARD BUSTHE SOUND AND THE FURY etc - which are great to catch up with now - Dramas label.
Its nice to remember that when we saw Remick at the BFI (NFT) in 1970, she was watching that scene with us (sitting next to me, as I had two seats in the front row and my guest could not make it, so she asked to sit in the spare seat while the clips were on) where she and Clift are so perfect crossing the river. Her scenes with Clift are so leisurely and well-paced, she is so reflective here as her character listens all the time, and slowly blossoms back to life. She said several times in interviews that its her favourite role and she enjoyed working with Clift. 
Last time I wrote about it, my friend Daryl added: "For years it was unavailable because the Deluxe color had faded badly (even the negative had turned all pink) and it took years for the color restoration (done with the financial backing of Martin Scorsese, just before Kazan's death). Now it has retained its lovely color, and the film is finding its place as one of Kazan's great works."
Well the Blu-ray edition certainly works, good commentary and booklet too. One of my favourite films just got better. 


  1. An excellent summation of a great film. Last night I read what David Thomson said about it in his book "Have You Seen ..." Seems we all agree it's one of Kazan's best films.

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