The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film. See more »
SWAMP FIRE (Paramount, 1946), directed by William H. Pine, marked a rare opportunity for Olympic champion Johnny Weissmuller in a non-Tarzan performance for the very first time on screen (not counting a cameo appearance in the 1943 all-star musical, STAGE DOOR CANTEEN for United Artists). Having acquired the role and loincloth since his introduction as the Jungle Lord in TARZAN THE APE MAN (MGM, 1932), followed by nearly ten sequels thus far, Weissmuller finally got his chance breaking away from the jungle into something completely different, a he-man adventure in the tradition of William H. Pine, producer and director of profitable "B" products since the early 1940s, many starring Richard Arlen. SWAMP FIRE provides Weissmuller a chance to enact fully clothed, either in striped shirt and cap or coast guard uniform. He does get to do Tarzan-like duties such as diving into the river and wrestling an alligator in order to rescue a lady in distress, along with battling with a villain, played by another former Olympic champ, Larry "Buster" Crabbe, who, at one point in Hollywood history, rivaled Weissmuller with an independent production as TARZAN THE FEARLESS (1933).
The story opens with this narrative that gives the general idea of both story and leading character: "Here in the delta country of Louisiana where the Mississippi merges with the gulf, at pilot town 90 river miles below New Orleans, lives a courageous and colorful group of men, the Associated Bar Pilots. Summer and winter, calm and storm, the bar pilots are on duty taking ships across the dangerous bars into the river. There the river pilots take over and guide the craft northward to New Orleans. Always members of the coast guard reserve, the bar pilots enlisted for active duty during the war. Most continued their piloted duties. Others were assigned to combat. Our story is about one of these. Pilot Johnny Duval returns from combat duty in the home on the Delta." Fade in: Johnny Duval (Johnny Weissmuller), a coast guard, is on his way home to Cypress Point after serving in World War II. Not exactly a hero, he is haunted by nightmarish flashbacks and guilt for losing both his men and ship during combat duty. After having his row boat hit by "Higgins," a passing motor boat belonging to Janet Hilton (Virginia Grey), an attractive but quick tempered society girl from the city, Johnny agrees taking her with him so she can acquire a boat to rent. Janet meets with Johnny friends, but makes a bad impression on them with her attitude. Johnny's love for Toni (Carol Thurston) stirs up jealousy towards Mike Kalavich (Larry "Buster" Crabbe - sporting mustache and Russian accent), a trapper who intends on taking her away from Johnny. Before the title of "Swamp Fire" takes its toll, Johnny, who has conquered his fear by performing a heroic duty, is recommissioned as lieutenant in the coast guard, later meeting with another accident that finds him destitute and drowning his sorrows by getting drunk in bars. After being struck by an car and placed in a hospital, he is soon taken in by Janet with every intention of separating him from both his people and fiancé so to have him for herself.
While SWAMP FIRE might have opened up a whole new career for Weissmuller, ranging in similar roles enacted by other jungle heroes as Jon Hall or Buster Crabbe, SWAMP WATER is has some moments of interest in having Weissmuller in more contemporary settings, speaking in complete sentences unlike his Tarzan character, and having kissing scenes with his female co-star (Thurston). Other than that, the story is basically 69 minutes of routine material. Others members of the cast include Edwin Maxwell (Captain Pierre Moise); Pedro DeCordoba (Jim Rousseau); Pierre Watkin (P.T. Hilton); and Marcelle Corday (Grandmere Rousseau).
Rarely seen on television since the mid 1980s, current prints of SWAMP FIRE eliminate its original Paramount logo with either Grand National or Special Pictures for its studio opening, the latter found in the Alpha Video DVD distribution. Although watchable with some exciting scenes, SWAMP WATER it's hardly a memorable event. After the release of SWAMP FIRE, Weissmuller returned to the African jungle in a couple more "Tarzan" adventures before starting out a whole new adventure in another film series, as "Jungle Jim" for Columbia, with one entry co-starring Buster Crabbe.(**1/2)
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