Wild River (1960)

105, 110 or 115 mins | Drama | May 1960

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HISTORY

The working titles for this film were Mud on the Stars , Time and Tide , The Swift Season and As the River Rises . When initial grosses for the film fell below Twentieth Century-Fox's expectations, the title was temporarily changed to The Woman and the Wild River to accompany an advertising campaign emphasizing the love affair between the characters portrayed by Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick. Both of the novels on which the film was based, William Bradford Huie's Mud on the Stars and Borden Deal's Dunbar's Cove , examined the impact of progress on the rural South in the decades preceding World War II. Wild River was the first film based on a work by Huie, whose novels had earlier been deemed too controversial for the screen. In a NYT interview dated Feb 1960, Huie noted that six films based on his work were currently in production, including Wild River , a situation made possible by "the recent liberalization of the industry's self-censorship code." The 1962 film The Outsider (see above) and the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily (see above) were also based on Huie's works.
       The film's prologue consists of black-and-white footage of a raging flood and the devastation left in its wake, followed by a newsreel-style interview with a survivor. An offscreen narrator provides the film's historical background, stating that on 18 May 1933, Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a massive public works program designed to end the loss of life and property caused by the overflowing of the ... More Less

The working titles for this film were Mud on the Stars , Time and Tide , The Swift Season and As the River Rises . When initial grosses for the film fell below Twentieth Century-Fox's expectations, the title was temporarily changed to The Woman and the Wild River to accompany an advertising campaign emphasizing the love affair between the characters portrayed by Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick. Both of the novels on which the film was based, William Bradford Huie's Mud on the Stars and Borden Deal's Dunbar's Cove , examined the impact of progress on the rural South in the decades preceding World War II. Wild River was the first film based on a work by Huie, whose novels had earlier been deemed too controversial for the screen. In a NYT interview dated Feb 1960, Huie noted that six films based on his work were currently in production, including Wild River , a situation made possible by "the recent liberalization of the industry's self-censorship code." The 1962 film The Outsider (see above) and the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily (see above) were also based on Huie's works.
       The film's prologue consists of black-and-white footage of a raging flood and the devastation left in its wake, followed by a newsreel-style interview with a survivor. An offscreen narrator provides the film's historical background, stating that on 18 May 1933, Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a massive public works program designed to end the loss of life and property caused by the overflowing of the Tennessee River. According to a modern source, the black-and-white opening footage is taken from Pare Lorenz's 1930 documentary, The River . Although reviews for Wild River list Robert Earl Jones's character as "Ben," his character's name in the film is "Sam Johnson." Wild River marked Bruce Dern's motion picture debut.
       DV news items dated Aug 1957 and Sep and Oct 1958 reported that first Ben Maddow and then Calder Willingham had been signed to adapt Mud on the Stars for Elia Kazan. However, these writers are not credited onscreen and the extent of their participation in the finished film has not been determined. A modern source reports that Kazan had hoped to write the script himself, but after a number of unsuccessful drafts, worked closely with Maddow and Willingham before hiring Paul Osborn. Nine drafts of the script were written and additional working titles reportedly included God's Valley , The Coming of Spring and New Face in the Valley . According to DV and HR news items dated Mar 1959, Marilyn Monroe was scheduled to play the female lead. In his memoirs, Kazan recounted that Twentieth Century-Fox executives urged him to hire Monroe, an idea he called "absurd." Kazan added that he never considered anyone for the role but Lee Remick, whom he had directed in his 1956 film A Face in the Crowd (see above).
       Wild River was shot entirely on location in Tennessee, in the towns of Cleveland, where the cast and crew were lodged, and Charleston, and on Lake Chickamauga and the Hiwassee River. The large set used for the Garth farmhouse took two months to construct at a cost of $40,000 and was subsequently burnt down for one of the film's final scenes. Eighty percent of the film's approximately fifty speaking parts were filled by locals with no previous acting experience. According to an article published in LA Mirror-News in Nov 1959, Kazan sparked a controversy in Cleveland after he hired extras from a slum known as "Gum Hollow" to play Depression-era Southerners. A number of prominent townspeople were angered by Kazan's casting choice and allegedly claimed that the "white trash" of Gum Hollow did not accurately depict the area's Depression unemployed. Kazan reportedly had to reshoot a few scenes, this time using "respectable, legitimate unemployed" in place of the "squatters." According to information in the production file on the film in the AMPAS Library, during filming, Remick's husband, television producer William Colleran, was in a serious auto accident and Remick returned to Los Angeles, causing production to shut down for one week. That delay, coupled with bad weather, put the shoot one month behind schedule.
       Wild River received a number of positive reviews and was voted eighth runner-up for best picture of 1960 by the National Board of Review. A number of critics, however, felt that the romantic plot distracted viewers from the film's powerful social themes, while the HR review declared that Wild River 's exploration of racial conflict "put the real story out of focus." Other reviewers focused their criticism on Clift, with Films in Review declaring that Clift was "no longer capable of acting" and that "his tense form and visage devitalize[d] every scene he [was] in." In his memoirs, Kazan termed the film a commercial "disaster" and placed part of the blame for its poor showing at the box office on Twentieth Century-Fox, which, Kazan alleged, did not distribute the film widely and pulled it too quickly from the theaters. Nevertheless, the film remained one of Kazan's favorites and has received praise from modern critics, one of whom termed it Kazan's "finest and deepest film."
       According to a modern source, Kazan's earliest inspiration for Wild River came after a visit to Tennessee in the mid-thirties and a stint working for the Department of Agriculture in 1941. In his autobiography, Kazan stated that he had planned for many years to make a film which would be "an homage to the New Deal," but that by the time he began working on the script, he had developed sympathy for the anti-progress stance represented by the character of Ella Garth, making Wild River his most ambivalent film in terms of its treatment of political and moral issues. A modern source reports that Kazan wanted Marlon Brando for the male lead, but he was unavailable. Kazan, who had directed Clift in a 1942 production of the play The Skin of Our Teeth , was at first adamently opposed to hiring Clift because of the actor's drinking problem. Clift reportedly promised Kazan that he would stay sober for the duration of the shoot and he was accompanied to Tennessee by a secretary assigned to keep an eye on him. With the exception of one brief binge near the end of production, reported Kazan, Clift kept his promise. A modern source adds Hardwick Stuart ( Marshal Hogue ) to the cast. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
6 Jun 1960.
---
Daily Variety
25 Jun 1956.
---
Daily Variety
9 Aug 1957.
---
Daily Variety
4 Sep 1958.
---
Daily Variety
13 Oct 1958.
---
Daily Variety
26 Mar 1959.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1959.
---
Daily Variety
9 Sep 1959.
---
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1959.
---
Daily Variety
24 May 1960
p. 3.
Film Daily
26 May 1960
p. 6.
Films in Review
Jun-Jul 1960.
---
Harrison's Reports
28 May 1960
p. 86.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1956.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1959.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 1959.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1960
p. 3.
LAMirror-News
10 Nov 1959.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
11 Sep 1959.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Mar 1957.
---
Motion Picture Daily
24 May 1960.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
28 May 1960
p. 716.
New York Times
10 Feb 1960.
---
New York Times
26 May 1960
p. 37.
New York Times
27 May 1960
p. 22.
The Exhibitor
8 Jun 1960
p. 4710.
Variety
25 May 1960
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hair styles
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novels Mud on the Stars by William Bradford Huie (New York, 1942) and Dunbar's Cove by Borden Deal (New York, 1957).
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
As the River Rises
Mud on the Stars
The Swift Season
The Woman and the Wild River
Time and Tide
Release Date:
May 1960
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 26 May 1960
Production Date:
15 Oct 1959--4 Jan 1960
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
22 May 1960
Copyright Number:
LP16409
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
105, 110 or 115
Length(in feet):
9,874
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19552
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Congress creates the Tennessee Valley Authority in May 1933. The mandate of the TVA is to stop the deadly flooding of the Tennessee River and bring progress to the poverty-stricken area through the construction of a series of dams. Chuck Glover, an idealistic TVA employee, arrives in a small Tennessee town to head the TVA's land purchasing office, where he will supervise relocation and land clearing operations. Chuck's first task is to convince the elderly Ella Garth, matriarch of a large family that has lived on an island in the river for generations, to sell her land to the government. Ignoring the "TVA Keep Off" signs, Chuck crosses the river to Garth Island, but Ella refuses to speak to him. Hoping Ella's three grown sons can help, Chuck approaches them, but when he clumsily suggests that Ella might be senile, Joe John Garth tosses him into the river. That evening, Joe John comes to town to apologize to Chuck and relay the message that Ella will receive him the following day. When Chuck returns to the island, he finds Ella, surrounded by her black field hands and their families, railing against Roosevelt's New Deal. To illustrate her situation, Ella pretends to attempt to force Sam Johnson, an elderly field hand, to sell her his beloved hunting dog. After making her point, Ella, who is not interested in the modern conveniences the dam will bring, declares that she cannot be forced to sell her land because to do so would be "against nature." Noticing that Ella's workers are idle and completely dependent upon ... +


As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Congress creates the Tennessee Valley Authority in May 1933. The mandate of the TVA is to stop the deadly flooding of the Tennessee River and bring progress to the poverty-stricken area through the construction of a series of dams. Chuck Glover, an idealistic TVA employee, arrives in a small Tennessee town to head the TVA's land purchasing office, where he will supervise relocation and land clearing operations. Chuck's first task is to convince the elderly Ella Garth, matriarch of a large family that has lived on an island in the river for generations, to sell her land to the government. Ignoring the "TVA Keep Off" signs, Chuck crosses the river to Garth Island, but Ella refuses to speak to him. Hoping Ella's three grown sons can help, Chuck approaches them, but when he clumsily suggests that Ella might be senile, Joe John Garth tosses him into the river. That evening, Joe John comes to town to apologize to Chuck and relay the message that Ella will receive him the following day. When Chuck returns to the island, he finds Ella, surrounded by her black field hands and their families, railing against Roosevelt's New Deal. To illustrate her situation, Ella pretends to attempt to force Sam Johnson, an elderly field hand, to sell her his beloved hunting dog. After making her point, Ella, who is not interested in the modern conveniences the dam will bring, declares that she cannot be forced to sell her land because to do so would be "against nature." Noticing that Ella's workers are idle and completely dependent upon her generosity for their survival, Chuck takes Sam aside and asks him to bring the men to the TVA office to discuss employment possibilities. Chuck also appeals to Ella's granddaughter, Carol Baldwin, a young and lonely widow with two small children, who moved to the island after the death of her husband. Although she is sure that Ella will die if forced to leave her land, Carol realizes that progress is inevitable and promises to help Chuck, to whom she is attracted. Carol reveals to Chuck that she is not in love with Walter Clark, the older man whom she is expected to marry, and after spending a night together in the house Carol once shared with her husband, Chuck and Carol become romantically involved. When Chuck hires local black laborers, including Ella's field hands, to work on the TVA's land-clearing operation, he arouses the anger of some of the locals. Sy Moore, a prominent businessman, urges Chuck to create segregated work crews and pay the black workers less than the whites, but Chuck flatly refuses to maintain such inequities, leading Moore to warn of retaliation by less reasonable townspeople. Ella's workers and their families pack up and leave the island, and soon even Ella's sons realize that it is time to go. Ella remains on the island alone, except for the loyal Sam, who refuses to leave her. Carol begs her grandmother to leave, but Ella, who knows that Carol is in love with Chuck, angrily rejects her pleas. Clark is alerted to Chuck's relationship with Carol by Hank Bailey, a cotton farmer who wants to take revenge on Chuck because one of his black workers left to take advantage of the higher wages offered by the TVA. Bailey enlists Clark's aid in getting Chuck away from Carol and back to his hotel room, where Bailey is waiting, but at the last minute, Clark warns Chuck. After Chuck refuses to be bullied by Bailey, who wants to be compensated for the work lost after he nearly beat his field hand to death for working for the TVA, Bailey knocks Chuck to the ground and picks his pockets. The following day, Chuck is phoned by his superiors in Washington, who tell him that time is running out and he must contact the U.S. Marshal to begin eviction proceedings against Ella. Hamilton and Cal Garth approach Chuck to propose that they sell the land themselves after having their mother declared incompetent. However, Chuck, who now understands and greatly admires Ella's pride and dignity, is disgusted with their plan and declares that he would rather have Ella removed with a gun to her head. Chuck reluctantly asks the marshal to remove Ella the next day, then goes to the island to make one last attempt to convince her to leave on her own. Even though she knows that the island will soon be under water, Ella steadfastly refuses to leave, and as Chuck heads back to the ferry, he notices that the faithful Sam continues to plow the fields. Chuck, saddened by Ella's plight and depressed by his part in it, returns to Carol's house, where Carol begs him to take her with him when he leaves, but Chuck is afraid of the emotions Carol arouses in him and is unable to give her an answer. As Carol bursts into sobs over Chuck's ambivalence, Clark arrives to warn them that the town thugs, led by Bailey, are gathering outside. As the sheriff watches from the sidelines, the crowd vandalizes Carol's home and Chuck's car. Proclaiming that he will not be run out of town, Chuck confronts Bailey, but is quickly knocked out. Carol then attacks Bailey with her fists and when Bailey knocks her down, the sheriff finally intercedes. After complimenting Carol on her fighting skills, Chuck proposes and they get married that night. The following day, Chuck and Carol accompany the marshal to Ella's island. As Ella's former workers look on, the marshal reads the eviction notice, after which the silent Ella walks to the ferry accompanied by the sounds of ax blows and falling trees. At her modern new home, Ella sits on the front porch, staring at the river and refusing to speak. A short time later, as workers finish clearing the island and prepare to burn down her farmhouse, Ella passes away. Once his work is done, Chuck and his new family fly out of the valley, first past Garth Island, now a tiny speck in a man-made lake, and then over the powerful new dam. +

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

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