A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Swamp Water (Jean Renoir, 1941)

Swamp Water has a few things working against it other than its title. For one, having a cast of familiar Hollywood stars pretending to be farmers, hunters, and trappers living on the edge of the Okefenokee swamp, and saying things like "I brung her" and "He got losted," makes for a certain lack of authenticity. And at 32, its leading man, Dana Andrews is about a decade too old to be playing the callow youth he's supposed to be in the movie. Add to that the director, Jean Renoir, is a wartime exile from France, making his first film in Hollywood, and you might expect the worst. Fortunately, it has a screenplay by a master, Dudley Nichols, and an eminently watchable cast that includes Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Anne Baxter, John Carradine, Ward Bond, and Eugene Pallette, who while they may never quite convince us that they're Georgia swamp-folk, do their professional best. It turns out to be a thoroughly entertaining movie that, while it doesn't add any luster to Renoir's career, doesn't detract from it either. This was Andrews's second year in movies, and he gives the kind of energetic performance that mostly overcomes miscasting. Born in Mississippi and raised in Texas, he also seems to know the character he's called on to play, perhaps a little better than the city-bred Baxter, whose efforts at being the village outcast are a bit forced. Brennan as usual plays an old coot, but without overdoing the mannerisms -- it's a slyly engaging performance. Much of the footage was shot by cinematographer J. Peverell Marley and the uncredited Lucien Ballard in the actual swamp and environs near Waycross, Georgia. There is some obvious failure to match the location footage with that shot back in the 20th Century-Fox studio, but it's not terribly distracting.

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