A young Cajun boy named Alexander Napolean Ulysses Latour spends his time on a Louisiana bayou. There he plays, fishes and hunts, worrying only about the alligators which infest its waters. The boy's innocent routine changes forever when his father signs a lease agreement with an oil company which brings a derrick into their corner of the bayou. Written by
Shannon Patrick Sullivan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
If you appreciate black and white cinematography, then you will delight in seeing the restored version of this movie on DVD. Cinematographer Richard Leacock and director Flaherty have teamed up to be the Ansel Adams of the film world. This is one of the most cinematic of films - its power and magic lie in the poetry of the images. The score by Virgil Thomson deserved its Pulitzer Prize for music in 1949; it receives a first class performance here by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.
Some have commented on the weak story, but I rather enjoyed it - it could be billed as "Huckleberry Finn meets Standard Oil." The story is told through the eyes of a young Cajun who lives with his grandfather and mother in a simple cabin in the Louisiana marshland. In the opening shots we see the boy exploring the bayous in his canoe with his pet raccoon. He has an elemental bond with his natural environment that made me jealous. The boy's grandfather signs a lease allowing Humble Oil to drill a wildcat well on the bayou near his cabin. We share the boy's wonder at seeing the oil derrick being floated into position and his excitement in being invited onto the rig to follow the drilling up close.
From the viewpoint of a more environmentally conscious time some sixty years later, the benevolent portrayal of the oil industry seems a bit quaint, but that a young boy should be fascinated by the process seems genuine, in any era. In fact I found the details on the drilling captivating, particularly the way those scenes were filmed as a ballet with the roustabouts moving to the rhythms of their work accompanied by the clanking of pipes and chugging of engines.
I had a problem with how delighted the grandfather and mother were at being able just to buy a few gifts from the profits of oil having been struck on their land. While the company to whom they had leased their land was making mucho bucks, it looks like the family got a few hundred dollars. Given the fact that this movie was commissioned by Standard Oil, I am sure that it was not the intent to make the company appear so greedy, but maybe that's one thing that hasn't changed in sixty years.
Joseph Boudreaux as the young boy is endearing and Lionel Le Blanc is believable as the crusty grandfather. All the actors appear to be locals - this adds authenticity, but also presents a problem in that they are not greatly skilled when it comes to delivering their lines. But there is minimal dialog and what there is is hardly necessary as the music and images carry you along.
The DVD has several interesting extras, one of them being a reading of some letters from Richard Leacock (postmarked from Abbeville, Louisiana) to his wife during the long filming. In one letter he says that they ran across the twelve-year-old Boudreaux in a café in Cameron, Louisiana. He had an Acadian accent, had trapped with his father, could handle a Cajun pirogue, and had an infectious smile. They figured he was perfect for the part but, since he was born out of wedlock and under-aged, there were significant difficulties under Louisiana law to be worked out before he could be signed on. Leacock's letters are quite frank. In one he notes that there was buzz about the visit from the director of all Standard Oil public relations and that Flaherty did not like him, referring to him as "the old bastard."
This is a wonderful film in the literal sense of the word wonderful.
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