The River Rat (1984)

PG | 93 mins | Adventure, Drama | 21 September 1984

Writer:

Tom Rickman

Producer:

Bobby Larson

Cinematographer:

Jan Kiesser

Editor:

Steve Mirkovich

Production Designer:

John J. Lloyd

Production Companies:

The Sundance Institute, Paramount
Full page view
HISTORY

End credits include the following statements: “The producers wish to thank Richard Bowen; Steve Wilson; Kentucky Film Commission; Louisiana Film Commission; Tenneco Oil Refinery, Chalmette Louisiana,” and “Filmed on location in Kentucky and Louisiana.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, writer and director Tom Rickman initially imagined The River Rat as a novel, while living in his native KY, prior to his career as a screenwriter. The original story was inspired by the Southern landscape of the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River where he grew up and also the literature he revered by Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Mark Twain. By the early 1970s, Rickman had moved to Los Angeles, CA, graduated from the American Film Institute, and written the initial draft screenplay for The River Rat, but the project remained dormant until he achieved critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for writing Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980, see entry). Several key production crew from Coal Miner’s Daughter reunited on The River Rat, including producer Bob Larson, executive producer Michael Apted, casting director Jo Doster of Doster, Keigley & Rhodes, unit production manager Wallace Worsley, makeup supervisor Mark Reedall, sound mixer Jim Alexander, transportation coordinator Gene Schwartz, and lead actor Tommy Lee Jones. In a 14 Aug 1984 LAHExam item, Rickman noted he wrote the role of “Billy” specifically for Jones. Apted, who directed Coal Miner’s Daughter, accompanied Rickman on a cruise of the Mississippi River to help research the story.
       The picture was made in association with filmmaker Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, which Rickman ... More Less

End credits include the following statements: “The producers wish to thank Richard Bowen; Steve Wilson; Kentucky Film Commission; Louisiana Film Commission; Tenneco Oil Refinery, Chalmette Louisiana,” and “Filmed on location in Kentucky and Louisiana.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, writer and director Tom Rickman initially imagined The River Rat as a novel, while living in his native KY, prior to his career as a screenwriter. The original story was inspired by the Southern landscape of the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River where he grew up and also the literature he revered by Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Mark Twain. By the early 1970s, Rickman had moved to Los Angeles, CA, graduated from the American Film Institute, and written the initial draft screenplay for The River Rat, but the project remained dormant until he achieved critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for writing Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980, see entry). Several key production crew from Coal Miner’s Daughter reunited on The River Rat, including producer Bob Larson, executive producer Michael Apted, casting director Jo Doster of Doster, Keigley & Rhodes, unit production manager Wallace Worsley, makeup supervisor Mark Reedall, sound mixer Jim Alexander, transportation coordinator Gene Schwartz, and lead actor Tommy Lee Jones. In a 14 Aug 1984 LAHExam item, Rickman noted he wrote the role of “Billy” specifically for Jones. Apted, who directed Coal Miner’s Daughter, accompanied Rickman on a cruise of the Mississippi River to help research the story.
       The picture was made in association with filmmaker Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, which Rickman had been affiliated with since the organization’s 1981 inception. Referring to its working title Deep River, a 13 Jul 1983 HR brief mentioned that the project was the “first commercial movie launched” by the organization.
       Principal photography began 12 Sep 1983 and took place over six weeks in Paducah, KY, which was one of several locales used to represent the backwater town where the “McCains” lived. Scenes were also shot in Golconda, IL, and the main street of Hickman, KY. The river sequences were shot from a camera barge that housed approximately sixty cast and crew and captured not only the Mississippi, but also the Clarks, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers. The production converted a furniture warehouse in Paducah into a makeshift soundstage to build sets for the sheriff’s office, “Joyce’s” apartment, the decaying mansion, and the McCain home. The final ten days of shooting took place in and around New Orleans, LA, where locations included the riverfront of the Mississippi, a nineteenth century plantation and cemetery in Lafitte, LA, and the Tenneco Oil Refinery in Chalmette, LA. Night scenes at the cemetery marked the completion of filming on 15 Nov 1983.
       The River Rat represented the feature film debut for several actors in the cast, including Martha Plimpton, Louise Anderson, and nine-year-old Shawn Smith, who was discovered in his hometown of Paducah, following a national talent search.
       As announced in a 5 Sep 1984 Var brief, the premiere was held 13 Sep 1984 at Paducah’s Arcade Theater, followed by a regional release at 322 theaters across the South and Southwest. The Dec 1984 Box review reported the picture earned $441,000 during opening weekend. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Dec 1984
Section R, p. 157.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Sep 1984
p. 3, 8.
LAHExam
14 Aug 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Nov 1984
Section L, p. 4.
Variety
5 Sep 1984.
---
Variety
19 Sep 1984
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Paramount Pictures presents
A Larson/Rickman production
In association with The Sundance Institute
In association with Cinema Group Venture
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
Dir, 2d unit
1st asst dir, 2d unit
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Key grip
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Best boy
2d grip
Dolly grip
Cam, 2d unit
Cam, 2d unit
Asst cam, 2d unit
Key grip, 2d unit
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Lead person
Asst propmaster
Const coord
Painter
Greensman
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Men's costumer
Women's costumer
MUSIC
Mus
Mus mixer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed
ADR ed
Boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Titles and opticals by
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec asst
Prod accountant
Scr supv
Prod coord
Tech adv
Prod assoc
Extra casting
Loc mgr
Unit pub
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Boatman
Boatman
Boatman
Boatman
Boatman
Boatman
Boatman
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
“The River’s Song,” performed by Joey Scarbury, written by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post
“Rock On The Bayou,” performed by Alabama, written by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post
“Wherever You Are,” performed by Earl Thomas Conley, written by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post
+
SONGS
“The River’s Song,” performed by Joey Scarbury, written by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post
“Rock On The Bayou,” performed by Alabama, written by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post
“Wherever You Are,” performed by Earl Thomas Conley, written by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post
“Maybe Next Time,” performed by Bill Medley, written by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post
“Halfway Right,” performed by Deborah Allen, written by Deborah Allen and Mike Post
Songs produced and arranged by Mike Post
Recorded and mixed by Doug Parry at Smoketree Ranch
“Take No Prisoners,” performed by Autograph, written by Steve Plunkett and Mike Post
“In One Ear And Out The Other,” performed by Autograph, written by Steve Plunkett and Mike Post
Songs produced by Neil Kernon and Mike Post
Recorded and mixed by Neil Kernon at The Record Plant.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
River Rats
Deep River
Release Date:
21 September 1984
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Paducah, KY: 13 September 1984
Regional opening: 21 September 1984
Los Angeles opening: 9 November 1984
Production Date:
12 September--15 November 1983
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
26 December 1984
Copyright Number:
PA235454
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses & Panaflex® cameras by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
93
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Jonsy McCain, a twelve-year-old tomboy, lives on an inlet of the Mississippi River with her grandmother Vadie McCain, who raised the girl after her father, Billy McCain, was imprisoned for robbery and murder thirteen years earlier. Jonsy, an industrious youngster, helps her grandmother run a bait and tackle shop at their riverfront house, and spends her free time trying to repair an old boat named the River Rat. One day, Sheriff Cal stops by to notify Vadie that Billy will be paroled soon. The news is unexpected and Vadie appears concerned, because she has lost touch with her son, while Jonsey has never met her father. After arriving, Billy is distant as he readjusts to being back on the river where he grew up. The inquisitive Jonsy is not shy about asking her newfound father personal questions, but Billy is not forthcoming. Vadie informs Billy that Joyce, Jonsy’s irresponsible mother, wrote from Memphis, Tennessee, a few years before, wanting to reconnect; however, Vadie discouraged it because she was afraid of losing her granddaughter. As Billy struggles to come to terms with his past, Vadie declares she never gave up on him and longs for him to be part of the family again. Billy agrees to help Jonsy fix up the River Rat and buys an old engine from Poley, the shifty, local salvage man. In Jonsy’s presence, Poley mentions the rumor that Billy and his partner-in-crime Whitey hid the robbery money downriver, but Billy reminds Poley that the cash burned, along with Whitey, in ... +


Jonsy McCain, a twelve-year-old tomboy, lives on an inlet of the Mississippi River with her grandmother Vadie McCain, who raised the girl after her father, Billy McCain, was imprisoned for robbery and murder thirteen years earlier. Jonsy, an industrious youngster, helps her grandmother run a bait and tackle shop at their riverfront house, and spends her free time trying to repair an old boat named the River Rat. One day, Sheriff Cal stops by to notify Vadie that Billy will be paroled soon. The news is unexpected and Vadie appears concerned, because she has lost touch with her son, while Jonsey has never met her father. After arriving, Billy is distant as he readjusts to being back on the river where he grew up. The inquisitive Jonsy is not shy about asking her newfound father personal questions, but Billy is not forthcoming. Vadie informs Billy that Joyce, Jonsy’s irresponsible mother, wrote from Memphis, Tennessee, a few years before, wanting to reconnect; however, Vadie discouraged it because she was afraid of losing her granddaughter. As Billy struggles to come to terms with his past, Vadie declares she never gave up on him and longs for him to be part of the family again. Billy agrees to help Jonsy fix up the River Rat and buys an old engine from Poley, the shifty, local salvage man. In Jonsy’s presence, Poley mentions the rumor that Billy and his partner-in-crime Whitey hid the robbery money downriver, but Billy reminds Poley that the cash burned, along with Whitey, in the car wreck. As they work on the boat together, Billy and Jonsy become closer. When the boat is ready, Billy suggests they take a trip down the Mississippi River to Memphis. Under the terms of his parole, Billy obtains permission to leave the county from Dr. “Doc” Cole, the prison psychiatrist in charge of rehabilitation. Before leaving, Billy receives a visit from Doc Cole and takes him for a ride in a skiff to talk privately. The two men engage in an intense argument. As the parolee tussles with the doctor, both men fall overboard. When Billy returns to shore alone, he pushes Doc Cole’s car into the river. Meanwhile, Doc Cole survives and stumbles onto the bank, where Poley finds him and attempts to steal his wallet. Rousing himself, the doctor offers to pay Poley to help him and sleeps at the salvage man’s riverfront shack. The next day, Billy and Jonsy set out for Memphis in the revamped boat, but soon discover that Wexel, a precocious nine-year-old African-American boy, has stowed away. The boy, who is a frequent presence around Vadie’s shop, mentions he was scared at the sight of a man in a white suit walking out of the swamp last night. Billy appears anxious since Wexel’s description fits Doc Cole. After the doctor’s car is discovered missing, Poley suspects Cole is concealing the real reason for his visit and mentions the rumor of Billy’s hidden robbery money. Doc Cole denies any knowledge of the money, then strangles Poley. In an attempt to frame Billy for the murder, the doctor places a trinket with Billy’s initials in the dead man’s hand. Meanwhile, on the riverboat, Billy tells his daughter about the murder and robbery thirteen years ago: One night, Billy, Joyce, and Whitey broke into the decaying mansion of an elderly widow, who was rumored to be rich. As Whitey and Billy discovered empty cat food boxes filled with cash underneath the woman’s bed, the widow woke and tried to shoot the two boys. Whitey did not hesitate to grab the gun and kill her. Joyce screamed, and the boys left her behind at the mansion while they escaped with the money and made their way down river to Louisiana. After going ashore and stealing a car, police intercepted them, and Whitey died when the vehicle crashed and exploded during the pursuit. Billy tells Jonsy that the money was left behind and burned inside the car. She is distressed to hear that her father was wrongly charged for the widow’s murder because Joyce made a deal and testified against him. After docking in Memphis, Billy pays a surprise visit to Joyce and tries to reconcile with her, but she dismisses him. During her parents’ conversation, Jonsy overhears Billy mention that the robbery money did not burn, but was hidden. Angry that her father lied to her, Jonsy confronts him as they walk back to the dock. Billy explains he made a deal with Doc Cole in prison; the corrupt doctor would authorize Billy’s parole in exchange for acquiring the hidden money. However, during their recent argument on the skiff, the doctor threatened to send Billy back to prison if he did not receive the money soon. Billy thought he accidentally killed the doctor, but apparently Cole survived. Billy warns Jonsy that the doctor is capable of murder. At the dock, Cole is waiting with a gun and forces Billy to lead him to the money, while insisting they bring along Jonsy and Wexel on the “treasure hunt.” Meanwhile, Sheriff Cal discovers Poley’s corpse in a patch of poison ivy. On the boat, Doc Cole indicates to Jonsy that Billy, not Whitey, shot the elderly woman. The young girl appears to doubt her father’s story, until Billy reassures her that he is telling the truth and is not a murderer. During a thunderstorm, the group takes shelter on a deserted stretch of beach. Doc Cole has developed a severe poison ivy rash on his face and hands. When the doctor reveals that Poley is dead and a trinket will implicate Billy in the murder, the two men fight for control of the gun. As lightning strikes nearby, Doc Cole aims the pistol at Billy and the children. Forced to reveal the location of the money, Billy recounts how he escaped the car wreck and ran toward a nearby Cajun cemetery, where he hid the cash in a coffin that was about to be entombed. Billy tells Doc Cole the name of the Louisiana cemetery, La Croix Cassee, but hesitates to reveal the name on the grave. Suddenly, a burning barge that was struck by lightning careens toward the beach. Grabbing Wexel, Billy flees with Jonsy to the boat, while Doc Cole runs inland. The following night, Billy and the two youngsters arrive at the cemetery in Louisiana and remove the money from the coffin. However, Doc Cole is waiting for them and stabs Billy in the shoulder with a metal object. Gripping the money, Doc Cole tries to capture Jonsy and Wexel, but Billy recovers enough to knock the doctor to the ground. As Cole scurries away, a Cajun man appears and takes Billy and the two children to the police station, where Billy receives medical treatment. Jonsy is worried her father will be implicated in another murder until Sheriff Cal arrives in Louisiana and reassures her. Further weakened and disfigured by the poison ivy rash, Doc Cole is escorted into the police station in handcuffs. Billy and Jonsy return home on the River Rat. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.