The Well (1951)

84-85 or 88 mins | Drama | 10 September 1951

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Deep Is the Well . Actor John Phillips' surname was misspelled "Philips" in the onscreen credits. Harry and Leo Popkin, Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse of Cardinal Productions had previously made the film D.O.A. . The filmmakers acknowledged that they were influenced in making The Well by the 1949 tragedy of Kathy Fiscus, a child from Pasadena, CA, who fell into a pipe sunk into an abandoned oil field and died before help could reach her. Her plight was broadcast on live television, marking the first time a news event became a dramatic national focal point through the fledgling medium of television. In May 1950, a LAEx news item stated that Harry Popkin "almost popped when he read...that Billy Wilder had an idea for a picture based on the tragic Kathy Fiscus rescue....[Popkin] does not intend for anyone to beat him to the screen with the picture." Wilder's film Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival ) was, in fact, released before The Well in Jul 1951 (as was the Warner Bros., Robert Wise-directed film The Three Secrets , which was released in Oct 1950 and inspired by the Fiscus tragedy.) LAEx , in their review, stated, "The final sequence of The Well is reminiscent in many ways of the tragic Kathy Fiscus case, and as the desperate operations continue through the night, the heartbreaking suspense (remembering little Kathy's fate) becomes almost unbearable."
       In a 1 Oct 1950 NYT article, Greene stated that the filmmakers used "authentic, factual material drawn from ... More Less

The working title of this film was Deep Is the Well . Actor John Phillips' surname was misspelled "Philips" in the onscreen credits. Harry and Leo Popkin, Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse of Cardinal Productions had previously made the film D.O.A. . The filmmakers acknowledged that they were influenced in making The Well by the 1949 tragedy of Kathy Fiscus, a child from Pasadena, CA, who fell into a pipe sunk into an abandoned oil field and died before help could reach her. Her plight was broadcast on live television, marking the first time a news event became a dramatic national focal point through the fledgling medium of television. In May 1950, a LAEx news item stated that Harry Popkin "almost popped when he read...that Billy Wilder had an idea for a picture based on the tragic Kathy Fiscus rescue....[Popkin] does not intend for anyone to beat him to the screen with the picture." Wilder's film Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival ) was, in fact, released before The Well in Jul 1951 (as was the Warner Bros., Robert Wise-directed film The Three Secrets , which was released in Oct 1950 and inspired by the Fiscus tragedy.) LAEx , in their review, stated, "The final sequence of The Well is reminiscent in many ways of the tragic Kathy Fiscus case, and as the desperate operations continue through the night, the heartbreaking suspense (remembering little Kathy's fate) becomes almost unbearable."
       In a 1 Oct 1950 NYT article, Greene stated that the filmmakers used "authentic, factual material drawn from actual race-riots in American cities, notably one in Detroit on June 20, 1943, in which thirty-four persons died." Location work was done in the northern California towns of Marysville and Grass Valley, and the film was completed at the Motion Picture Center Studio in Hollywood on a $450,000 budget. According to a 19 Feb 1952 DV news item, a week before the film was to open in Cincinnati in Oct 1951, the Ohio Film Censor Board notified the distributor, United Artists, that they needed more time to deliberate. The censor board did not grant the film a seal of approval until Feb 1952. The DV item stated that "the presence of Negro characters in the plot" had been of concern to the board.
       The PittsC , an African-American newspaper, chose the film as the best picture of the year, and the Foreign Language Press Film Critics Circle awarded the filmmakers a special mid-season citation. Some reviewers criticized the film's dramatic handling of the story. NYT criticized the first part of the film as a "presumptuous concoction of suddenly inspired race hate and wildly explosive race rioting that is easier to rue than to believe." New Yorker complained that in the denouement, "the transformation of the rioters from hoodlums into upstanding, cooperative, and ingenious citizens, all united to save a child, is effected so suddenly that the spectator has quite a time reorienting his ideas about the virtuous and the wicked." Var , however, lauded the film's "frank and ofttimes brutal approach" to race relations. The film received Academy Award nominations in the Film Editing and Writing (Story and Screenplay) categories. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Sep 1951.
---
Daily Variety
5 Sep 1951
p. 3.
Daily Variety
19 Feb 1952.
---
Daily Variety
18 Apr 1952.
---
Film Daily
7 Sep 1951
p. 10.
Harrison's Reports
8 Sep 1951
p. 144.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1950
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1950
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1951
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1951.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
30 Oct 1950.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
2 May 1950.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
27 Oct 1951.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 May 1950.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Sep 1950.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Oct 1951.
---
Motion Picture Daily
5 Sep 1951.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Sep 1951
p. 1005.
New York Times
1 Oct 1950.
---
New York Times
27 Sep 1951
p. 37.
New Yorker
6 Oct 1951.
---
The Exhibitor
12 Sep 1951
p. 3152.
Variety
5 Sep 1951
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Harry M. Popkin Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
WRITERS
Wrt for the screen by
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Women's ward
Men's ward
MUSIC
Mus comp and dir
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Deep Is the Well
Release Date:
10 September 1951
Production Date:
late September--late October 1950 at Motion Picture Center Studio
Copyright Claimant:
Cardinal Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
29 September 1951
Copyright Number:
LP1717
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
84-85 or 88
Length(in feet):
7,697
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
15138
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

As Carolyn Crawford, a five-year-old African-American girl, skips through a vacant field on her way to school, she slips and falls into a well. Her mother Martha and grandfather give her description to Sheriff Ben Kellog, who then learns that three classmates saw a man speaking with her in front of Woody's flower shop. Woody tells of a white man who bought flowers for the girl, whom he had never seen before. Word soon spreads in the black community that a white man abducted Carolyn. A crowd of blacks and whites gathers at the police station, where Gaines, Carolyn's uncle, accuses Ben of not doing everything he can because the suspect is white. Ben indignantly says that color has nothing to do with it. Ben learns that the suspect, Claude Packard, is the nephew of construction company owner Sam Packard, an influential man in town. When Claude is found at the bus station and questioned, he admits that he bought Carolyn flowers, but says he then sent her off to school. He explains that he was passing through town on his way to a new mining project where he hoped to get a job, and thought he would visit his uncle. Worried that the scandal could ruin him, Sam tries to coerce Claude into saying they were together all morning. Ben had been about to book Claude, but he now hesitates and keeps the search open. Word spreads among blacks that Sam is going to get his nephew freed. As he leaves the police station, Sam is questioned by Gaines and Carolyn's father Ralph, and when Sam falls and the two ... +


As Carolyn Crawford, a five-year-old African-American girl, skips through a vacant field on her way to school, she slips and falls into a well. Her mother Martha and grandfather give her description to Sheriff Ben Kellog, who then learns that three classmates saw a man speaking with her in front of Woody's flower shop. Woody tells of a white man who bought flowers for the girl, whom he had never seen before. Word soon spreads in the black community that a white man abducted Carolyn. A crowd of blacks and whites gathers at the police station, where Gaines, Carolyn's uncle, accuses Ben of not doing everything he can because the suspect is white. Ben indignantly says that color has nothing to do with it. Ben learns that the suspect, Claude Packard, is the nephew of construction company owner Sam Packard, an influential man in town. When Claude is found at the bus station and questioned, he admits that he bought Carolyn flowers, but says he then sent her off to school. He explains that he was passing through town on his way to a new mining project where he hoped to get a job, and thought he would visit his uncle. Worried that the scandal could ruin him, Sam tries to coerce Claude into saying they were together all morning. Ben had been about to book Claude, but he now hesitates and keeps the search open. Word spreads among blacks that Sam is going to get his nephew freed. As he leaves the police station, Sam is questioned by Gaines and Carolyn's father Ralph, and when Sam falls and the two black men run, a rumor circulates among the whites that Sam has been beaten up by blacks. Incidents of racial fighting begin to occur in the town. Ben and his deputy Mickey search in the vacant field where Carolyn fell, but are interrupted when an officer informs them of the fighting. Ben sends Mickey to take Claude to the county seat until things cool off. At a citizen's committee meeting, Ben requests that the mayor get the state militia, but both black and white citizens think that is extreme. When Ben warns that they will soon have a race riot, a black man describes a riot he experienced in which his father's body was dragged through the streets and a white child was beaten to death. Upset at the description, the mayor goes to see the governor. As violence continues unabated, Sam's assistant Wylie and other whites beat up Gaines. Mobs race through streets, as groups gather weapons. A Packard warehouse is burned down, and talk spreads of running "these niggers" out of town. At a gathering at Sam's, he vows to drive out the blacks even if he has to kill every one of them. Ben warns that he will shoot anyone who tries to kill a black. In the field, a dog barks at the hole into which Carolyn fell. The dog's owner, a boy, finds Carolyn's school book and jacket and runs off. During a meeting of blacks, Gaines advocates killing two "ofays" for every black killed, and Crawford agrees. Mickey brings Claude back to town after being attacked at a roadblock. The boy brings Carolyn's things to Martha, and as word spreads that the girl has been found, tensions are eased. At the well, Gleason, a white racist who owns a radio and electronics service, lowers a microphone into the hole and hears Carolyn's voice. Ben lowers a rope, but when Carolyn does not tie it around her waist, Martha explodes in tears. After township records are examined, it is decided to dig sixty-three feet, then cut a tunnel across to Carolyn. A white-owned company offers lumber to shore up the tunnel as they go. When Sam arrives, he realizes they will never get to Carolyn in time by digging and suggests they sink a shaft using his company's crane. As the townspeople shine their car headlights into the field for light, the men begin to work. Sam asks Claude, who has worked in mines, to tunnel across once they reach Carolyn's depth, but Claude, hating the town, leaves. As they pump water out of the hole, a cave-in occurs, trapping Wylie. Gaines rescues him, but then another wall caves in. Finally, Claude, who has returned, pulls Carolyn out, with Gaines's help. An African-American doctor takes her to an ambulance, as the crowd anxiously awaits word on her condition. Ben comes out and tells Martha that Carolyn is going to be all right, then Gleason announces the news to the assembled group, who rejoice. Sam winks at Ralph as the ambulance pulls out. +

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

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