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Social drama set in rural Alabama in the 1930s, directed by Elia Kazan. Montgomery Clift stars as Chuck Glover, an agent sent by the Tennessee Valley Authority to oversee the building of a dam on the Tennessee River. He encounters opposition from the local people, including an elderly woman, Ella Garth (Jo van Fleet) who refuses to budge from her land, and various factions who object to his providing paid employment for local black labourers. Lee Remick co-stars as Ella Garth's granddaughter Carol, who gradually falls in love with the sensitive and liberal-minded Glover.
For more about Wild River and the Wild River Blu-ray release, see Wild River Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Elia Kazan
Starring: Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet, Frank Overton, Malcolm Atterbury
» See full cast & crew
Wild River Blu-ray Review
Dammed and damned.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 22, 2013
Turkish-born director and Actors Studio founder Elia Kazan is most known for his powerhouse social dramas of the 1950s—On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and East of Eden, notably—which introduced the public to "Method" acting and made stars of Marlon Brando and James Dean. Unjustly unconsidered as one of his best films, however, is 1960's moving Wild River, a Depression-era period piece that—unlike its title—flows with a quiet, lyrical grace that's atypical among the director's more intense and theatrical work.
The film itself is a study in contrasts. Nostalgia and tradition are pitted against technological progress. The rural poor stand up to the educated outsider from Washington. Individualism goes head-to-head with the common good. The particular brilliance of the film is that it recognizes that these ideological oppositions are complex, impossibly binary, and difficult to parse by way of objective moral reasoning. While the film begins with what seems like a clear-cut protagonist and antagonist, we soon realize that both are fully justified in their actions. Ultimately, their impasse is broken through sheer, might-makes-right force, perhaps suggesting that our ethical intuition hasn't changed as much as we would like to think that it has since the Dark Ages.
The setting is a small town in Tennessee during the early 1930s. Washington bureaucrat Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift) arrives to head up the local branch of the federally operated Tennessee Valley Authority, a New Deal agency formed to provide flood control and electricity to the depressed and natural disaster-prone region. Planning to intentionally flood part of the valley, the TVA has built a hydroelectric dam downriver and—in a sweeping use of eminent domain—bought up nearly all the surrounding land. There's only one holdout, 80-year-old Ella Garth—played magnificently by then 45- year-old Jo Van Fleet in terrific makeup—a staunch matriarch who's lived on an island mid-river all her life and isn't about to budge now, come hell or literal high water.
Since the TVA doesn't want the negative publicity associated with an intervention by a U.S. Marshall, Glover's sole task is to convince Ella that it's in her best interest to move, a task that three previous officials have failed. He's committed to using reason—the dam will bring electric power, new jobs, and a renewed economy to the area—but Glover fails to see that Ella has equally valid reasons for staying. For one, she would hate to see such good soil go to waste underwater. Her late husband cleared and homesteaded the island with his bare hands—it's now a farm tended by several families of African-American workers she oversees and pays well—and Ella plans on being buried next to him. Besides, she's opposed to what she sees as a soulless, progress-for-the-sake-of-progress venture. When Glover tells her the TVA aims to tame the whole river, she replies, "You do? Well, I like things runnin' wild."
She's an obstinate old biddy—prideful and incommunicative—but the film gradually allows us to see Ella's side in the matter, by which point Glover begins to seem just as stubborn, even if he's just doing his job. Both are "right," and with the clock ticking on the inevitable flooding of the valley, there's no obvious compromise. The drama is complicated when Glover falls for Ella's granddaughter, Carol (the beautiful Lee Remick, of Anatomy of a Murder fame), a 24-year-old widowed mother of two who's looking for a way off the confining, stultifying island. This relationship might appear to be merely a plot convenience—a way to give Glover an "in" and a bargaining chip—but it's played with convincing feeling by Clift and Remick, whose characters achingly ebb and flow towards and away from one another, each aware that the situation surrounding their hesitant romance is far from ideal.
Of course, it wouldn't be an Elia Kazan film without some social consciousness-raising themes—despite his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the director was a lifelong liberal—and with Wild River, he dives headlong into the Jim Crow racism of the 1930s. When Glover offers Ella's black employees good jobs in town at $5 a day—the going rate for white laborers—a cadre of bigot businessmen put the squeeze on him, culminating in a home siege sequence that plays almost like a tamer precursor to Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, with a gang of angry good 'ol boys menacingly surrounding Carol's house while the bemused law enforcement looks on from a distance to see what happens. "They're just having a little fun," says the sheriff as the mob tips over Glover's car and rolls it down a hill. I'd hate to see what a lot of fun would look like. Thankfully, it doesn't come to that.
Wild River might be said to belong to the "Appalachian realism" genre that more recently includes films like The Coal Miner's Daughter and Winter's Bone. Kazan shot on location in Tennessee and picked non-professional locals to act in many—if not most—of the supplemental roles, giving the movie an authentically rural look. At the same time, the film's feel is sweetened by a slight romanticizing of the South, where farmhands softly sing old hymns at the river's edge, where autumn leaves blow mournfully across the landscape, and where tradition is its own virtue. If Wild River is a clear-eyed examination of the difficulty in balancing the greater good with individual rights, it's also a swan song to a disappearing way of life.
Wild River Blu-ray, Video Quality
Wild River was a box-office flop when it first came out, and Elia Kazan even worried that 20th Century Fox would destroy the negative to make room in their vaults for better-selling titles. Fortunately, that wasn't the case. Fox's new Blu-ray release of the film is almost certainly the best Wild River has looked since its debut, with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's practically spotless. Any print damage that was present has been completely removed here—there are no scratches, stains, or even white specks—while, at the same time, the natural film grain of the 35mm picture has been entirely preserved, unmarred by digital noise reduction or edge enhancement. And although the film sits on a single-layer, 25 GB disc, I didn't spot any apparent compression concerns. The image is simply gorgeous, starting with the distinctive DeLuxe Color color palette—rich and warm and dense— which is anchored with strong blacks and balanced contrast. On top of that, clarity is excellent. Yes, there are some longer shots that look a little soft, but the closeups—and most of the medium shots—are wonderfully detailed. Look no further than the textures of Montgomery Clift's suits or the fine lines of his facial features. 20th Century Fox has been killing it with their recent batch of catalog titles—How Green Was My Valley, Gentleman's Agreement, and Wild River all look fantastic in high definition.
Wild River Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Likewise, the film has received a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track that's faithful to source and as clear and dynamically grounded as we can expect a film from 1960 to be. Through limited to a single channel, the sound design has a decent amount of depth, starting with scene-appropriate ambience in the background—outdoorsy noises, quietly sung hymns drifting over the river, the cackles and clamor of an angry mob, the patter of rain— and moving forward to the dialogue, which is always clean, unmuffled, and easy to understand. I didn't detect any hisses, sudden volume fluctuations, drop-outs, major crackles, or any other age-related issues. The highlight here is the score by Kenyon Hopkins (12 Angry Men, The Fugitive Kind), which meanders along with harmonica and a sad trumpet refrain that'll worm its way into your brain. The disc includes a Spanish Dolby Digital mono dub, along with optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles, which appear in easy-to-read white lettering.
Wild River Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Wild River Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Thought not as celebrated as some of his earlier dramas, Wild River is one of Elia Kazan's best films, a quietly moving romance and a multi- faceted examination of the impasse between individual rights and the common good. As with most films by the famed "actor's director," the performances here are on point, with a beautifully proud and noble portrayal of rural matriarchy by Jo Van Fleet and nuanced turns by both Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray presentation does justice to the gorgeous DeLuxe Color cinematography, and the audio commentary by film historian Richard Schickel adds repeat-viewing value. Highly recommended!
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Wild River Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Upcoming Fox Classics - November 15, 2012
20th Century Fox Entertainment has revealed that it is planning to bring to Blu-ray three classic films: Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and Wild River (1960), and John Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941). The three releases will be available for purchase ...
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