In 1946, ex-Navy engineer Steve Martin comes to a Louisiana town with a dream: to build a safe platform for offshore oil drilling. Having finessed financing from a big oil company, formerly penniless Steve and his partner Johnny are in business...and getting interested in shrimp-boat captain Rigaud's two lovely daughters. But opposition from the fishing community grows fast, led by Stella Rigaud. Other hazards include sabotage, a hurricane...and a treacherous board of directors. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Although filmed in the standard 1.37-1 aspect ratio, this film was chosen by Universal-International as its first widescreen feature, accomplishing this by cropping the top and bottom and projecting it at 1.85-1 at Loew's State Theatre in New York City, as well as other sites. Its initial presentation also marked U-I's first use of directional stereophonic sound. See more »
Thunder Bay is an anomaly, a pedantic film on a subject seldom dealt with in the movies, the conflict between businessmen, whose ambitions will cause great change in the local landscape, and the locals, who want things to remain as they are. In this case it's oil drillers versus shrimp fisherman in the Louisiana of the early 1950's. The conflict at times seems almost Marxian, with James Stewart's hardheaded, no-nonsense outsider going up against ragin' Cajun Gilbert Roland, a far more charming and sympathetic figure. Rather than shy away from class conflict, the movie confronts the issue repeatedly, in a variety of ways, and builds up a good deal of tension along the way, as Stewart's compulsive, oil drilling loner, increasingly isolated, takes on the entire community.
There's a good deal of fifties sociology here, with the modern, inner-directed Stewart against the tradition-centered fishing people. Neither side understands the other, as one can well see how these local folks would view Stewart as an uncaring and forbidding figure, the embodiment of alien, big city values. On the other hand these people are a rough and tumble lot, uneducated, clannish and utterly without curiosity. It's easy to see how an educated man might look down on them. There's a good deal of action along the way, and some fist-fights. At a time when many Americans still thought of themselves in terms of class, and with the Depression fresh in everyone's minds, it was rather bold of director Anthony Mann to take on this subject from a middle of the road, basically Republican (but not right wing) perspective. In this respect the movie, which came out in the first year of the Eisenhower administration, heralded a new era of compromise, with the promise of better things yet to come. As to which side is right, well, you be the judge. I'm still thinking this over.
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