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SWAMP WATER (Jean Renoir, 1941) ***
Bunuel197624 June 2006
If one didn't know beforehand who directed this film (which proved to be Renoir's U.S. debut), he would be excused for thinking it was made by John Ford - given the presence of a good number of his stock company of actors (Walter Brennan, John Carradine, Ward Bond, Russell Simpson) and the music score utilizing themes from THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940), which was also a 20th Century-Fox production! Still, Renoir's uniquely humanist outlook is unmistakable - which is only betrayed by the one-dimensional Tweedle-Dee/Tweedle-Dum pairing of Bond (here practically duplicating his villainous role in Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN [1939]) and Guinn Williams.

An altogether impressive production, with the overpowering atmosphere of the Okefenokee beautifully captured by Renoir and veteran cinematographer Peverell Marley (despite some obvious back-projection); the use of shadowy lighting is especially striking. Its concern with realism also extends to some rather physical violence for the time and a couple of unnerving scenes involving prowling alligators and snakes! Consequently, the film is vastly underrated in the director's canon (especially having now watched all his American features). While it may have served as a sort of dry run for Renoir's own THE SOUTHERNER (1945), the film also looks forward to INTRUDER IN THE DUST (1949) - which, similarly, dealt with a miscarriage of justice.

With regards to casting, I don't agree with Leonard Maltin who felt that Walter Brennan's fugitive constituted "bizarre miscasting" (certainly no more than his uncharacteristic if brilliant turn as Old Man Clanton in Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE [1946]): despite receiving top billing, he appears very little but his presence permeates the entire film. Walter Huston is never less than good in anything he does, but his gruff patriarch here isn't all that central to the plot; interestingly, the actor later appeared in a film by another expatriate French director - Rene' Clair's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945). Conversely, Dana Andrews makes quite an impression as his rebellious but subsequently heroic young son - and this film must surely have put him on his way to becoming a veritable leading-man. The film also has Andrews forsaking egotistical village belle Virginia Gilmore for the raggedy but radiant Anne Baxter (whose real identity has been shielded from most of the community). To spite Andrews, the former takes up with another man: the actor's face was familiar to me but I couldn't quite place it, that is, until I saw his name during the end credits - it was none other than Matt Willis, who would go on to play Bela Lugosi's werewolf acolyte in THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1944)! Similarly, Huston's young bride (played by Mary Howard) is pursued by an atypically meek, almost pitiful Carradine - though it later transpires that he was involved in Brennan's framing!

Surely one of the film's most endearing aspects is the unconditional love shown by both Andrews and Brennan to the former's wayward dog, hence the name of Trouble (which even occupies the film's very last shot via a well-deserved close-up!). As for the attractively-packaged DVD itself, the overall quality of the film's transfer was acceptable (though print damage was evident on occasion); I don't usually buy bare-bones discs, but the very reasonable price-tag and the fact that this rarely-screened film is as yet unavailable on R1 made the purchase virtually a no-brainer - and it has certainly made me game to pick up some more exclusive R2 stuff, above all the SE of Lewis Milestone's war drama THE PURPLE HEART (1944), also featuring Dana Andrews and a film I missed out on during my tenure in Hollywood...
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Old Classic
artzau29 May 2001
I can remember seeing this movie as a kid and getting the bejesus scared out of me. The darkness and uncertainty of the swamp terrified my young imagination and the image of the skull atop a cross touched all my Roman Catholic primal fears. My impression of the swamp, i.e., crocs, gaters and snakes, topped with a dark image of the fugitive played by Walter Brennan, lasted for years. Now, I do recall there being a video (although none is listed here), because I did see it again a few years back. The shock of the darkness of the film was dulled by over 50 years of life but the Gothic quality of the story along with the fine characterization of Renoir makes this film a classic. Walter Huston is great in his curmudgeon role as the young Dana Andrews's father married to a younger woman who's getting moves laid on by ever villainous John Carridine. The presence of great character actors Guinn"Big Boy" Williams, Ward Bond and gravel-voiced Eugene Palette adds much to the texture of the film. Too, the young Anne Baxter is superb as the daughter of Brennan and the female interest of Dana Andrews. The story line seems a bit tame, by today's standards but holds up well. All in all, this is a satisfying film well done and provocative. Check it out.
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Surprisingly good.
MartinHafer30 June 2010
Considering that Hollywood's view of the South consisted of films like "L'il Abner" and "Swing Your Lady" during this era, the fact that "Swamp Water" turned out so good is a bit of a surprise. What's even more surprising is that this film about the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia was directed by a Frenchman, Jean Renoir.

The film is set along the edges of the swamp. Apparently the locals all are a bit afraid of going into the treacherous swamp and if they do, it's only in groups. Considering all the gators and snakes, it's easy to see why they avoid it! However, when Dana Andrews' dog gets lost there, he ventures into the swamp alone. Instead of dying or never finding his way back, he meets up with a wanted man (Walter Brennan). Despite Brennan being wanted for murder for the last five years, it soon becomes apparent he's too nice a guy to have killed anyone--and Andrews agrees to keep his whereabouts secret and become his partner in the fur trapping trade.

In addition to this major plot thread, several other seemingly divergent plot elements occur during the course of the film--and by the end they all come together. First, Andrews' mother has been allowing an old boyfriend (John Carradine) to spend time at the house when her older husband (Walter Huston) is gone on hunting trips. While she rebuffs Carradine's advances, you wonder why she doesn't tell him to leave---so it's obvious she' ambivalent about this. When the husband finds out she's been with another man, things get tense--but he has no idea who the man was. And, there is another plot involving two rough and nasty brothers (Ward Bond and Guinn Williams) who just seem to be up to no good! Finally, there is a blossoming love between Brennan's daughter (Anne Baxter) and Andrews.

So why did I like the film? Well, I appreciated how although the actors approximated accents of the locale, it was NOT exaggerated and the people were not made out to be a bunch of ignorant yokels. While I am sure the film would not be one recommended by the Georgia Department of Tourism, the film clearly is not offensive or overdone. The acting is good, the complex plot involving and interesting. While not exactly a great film, it did have some nice tense moments and was quite enjoyable.

By the way, despite the nice Midwest sort of 'perfect' accent, Dana Andrews was Mississippi-born! Interesting.
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"You'll be back here by tomorrow night, or not at all"
ackstasis12 January 2009
If one had missed the opening credits, he would be forgiven for thinking that 'Swamp Water (1941)' was one of John Ford's lesser-known efforts. If the cast of familiar Ford faces – including Walter Brennan, Ward Bond and John Carradine – didn't lead you up the wrong path, then it's the smaller touches that characterise the director's Westerns: a close-knit community, an impassioned brawl, an innocent young lass, a significant father-son relationship. In this case, however, the credit doesn't belong to one of America's greatest filmmakers, but to the French equivalent {though it comes as no surprise that writer Dudley Nichols was a frequent Ford collaborator}. 'Swamp Water' was Jean Renoir's first picture following his migration to Hollywood in the early 1940s. Interestingly, considering the distinctive brand of auterist film-making evident in 'The Rules of the Game (1939)' just two years earlier, there's little here to suggest that Renoir is seated behind the camera. Aside from a waterbound opening shot that calls to mind several scenes from 'A Day in the Country (1936),' this film bears little resemblance to the other seven Renoirs I've seen to date.

When hunter Ben Ragan (Dana Andrews, in an early role) ventures into the feared Okefenokee swamp to retrieve his lost dog, he happens upon the hiding-place of Tom Keefer (Walter Brennan), a convicted murderer who escaped custody and has been living in isolation for several years. Despite having become a rugged and slightly eccentric recluse, Keefer firmly professes his innocence and spares Ben's life, in exchange for keeping silent about his whereabouts. Back in town, and to his sweetheart's (Virginia Gilmore) chagrin, Ben befriends Keefer's daughter Julie (Anne Baxter), a raggedy young beauty who shies away from social interaction like a frightened kitten {fortunately for her career, Baxter would play a substantially more independent character in Wilder's 'Five Graves to Cairo (1943),' and I certainly don't need to mention 'All About Eve (1950)'}. Meanwhile, Ben's father Thursday (Walter Huston) watches out for the cowardly ruffian who has been bothering his younger wife Hannah (Mary Howard) – the perpetrator is, of course, the suitably pathetic John Carradine.

Even if it doesn't attain the dizzying heights of Renoir's other offerings, 'Swamp Water' deserves to be seen for his marvellous and atmospheric cinematography (the stifling swamp photography was captured by Peverell Marley) and strong performances. Andrews perhaps wasn't the most authentic actor of the 1940s, but here he plays the young hero with a tenacity that signalled a successful future in Hollywood. Huston is, of course, terrific, and I've found it interesting that he never seems to play the same character (to such an extent that in 'And Then There Were None (1945)' and 'Dragonwyck (1946)' it took me a while to even recognise him!). But the heart of the film belongs to Brennan, who comes across as sympathetic and likable without even trying, though he brings an added toughness to this role that I liked – by the way, how the heck did they film the snake-bite scene without risking their top-billed star? I don't know if 'Swamp Water' could be confidently recommended to fans of its French director, but John Ford aficionados could certainly do much worse.
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Vivid memory of Miss Baxter
eddietomorrow4 December 2006
Only viewed this movie once,when as an eleven year old , it first opened. I still recall the scene where Julie scurried away through the barn to hide from Andrews. Clawing like a black cat (with her raven hair matted as if it were a Brillo Pad.) I instantly fell head over heels in love with that gruff looking girl.

The fight scene , the cottonmouth attack still looms large in my memory. I'm 76 now, but would love to see it twenty more times and hark back to those innocent days, when a nickle candy bar could be bought for five cents .

Excellent movie (Also loved The Southerner)
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Entertaining and Dramatic Adventure
claudio_carvalho18 December 2014
While participating in a posse to hunt down the fugitive Tom Keefer (Walter Brennan), who is accused of murdering a local inhabitant, the young Ben Ragan (Dana Andrews) loses his dog Trouble in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. He returns to the swamp to seek his dog out but he is captured by Tom. Soon he learns that Tom Keeler is innocent and has a daughter, Julie (Anne Baxter), who is raised by the local merchant Marty McCord (Russell Simpson). Ben has an argument with his father Thursday Ragan (Walter Huston) and he moves to a shanty that belongs to Marty. Then he associate to Tom Keeler to hunt animals in the swamp and he shares the profit of selling furs with Julie. Soon they fall in love with each other. One day, Ben witnesses Bud Dorson (Guinn Williams) and his brother Tim Dorson (Ward Bond) stealing Marty's pigs. There is a meeting in the village with Sheriff Jeb McKane (Eugene Palette) to find the thief and Ben's ex-girlfriend Mabel MacKenzie (Virginia Gilmore) is jealous of Ben and accuses Tom Keefer. The sheriff organizes a search party to hunt Tom down, but Ben presses Jesse Wick (John Carradine), who is harassing his stepmother Hannah (Mary Howard), and he finds who the real killers are. He wants Tom to return to the village, but Tom suspects that Ben might intend to betray him.

"Swamp Water" is an entertaining and dramatic adventure. The locations and the camera work in the swamp are impressive. The choreography of the fight and the quick sand in the swamp "swallowing" the criminal are very realistic. The direction of Jean Renoir and the cinematography are amazing. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "O Segredo do Pântano" ("The Secret of the Swamp")
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Evocative, magical film
Vin-713 August 1999
This is a beautiful, sometimes extremely delicate, often very eerie film of love and death in the nearly primordial Florida Everglades. Both the director (Renoir) and the cinematographer have created a mystical feeling surrounding the setting, and it's a perfect match for the moral complexity Renoir draws from the characterizations. It is not an easy American film; it's morally challenging. Dana Andrews is perfect casting in this way; he is anything but a transparent presence on screen. Anne Baxter too, has an unspoken pain about her that's ideal. And Walter Brennan is just, as always, wonderful.
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A Ford-like Renoir film
ricsan16 January 2004
Having seen almost all Renoir's works, I was eager to see this one, the master's first film of his american stint. If you have seen Renoir's The River (1951), one of his loveliest masterpieces, the feeling cames to you, when you are watching this 1941 movie, that you are seeing just a preparatory exercise for that later piece of art. Just listen Walter Brennan's lines when he first meet Dana Andrews about how the death of an individual begets new life elsewhere.

Sometimes also in the movie I had the resemblance of watching a John Ford movie, specially in the town scenes, more obvious in the ball scenes, the guy with the girl chatting, the dancers background, and suddenly a huge thug coming out, and the fight therefore. More hints about this: the writer is Dudley Nichols, a Ford habitual collaborator, and among the cast, John Carradine and Ward Bond, also from Ford's troup. Anyway, it's a Renoir. Watch it (it's short and pleasant, and hide two or three great moments.)
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people, gators, cottonmouths, and some quick sand
RanchoTuVu2 September 2010
A swamp that is widely perceived by all the locals as impenetrable offers refuge to a convicted murderer who has been hiding out there for years and has learned its lessons well enough to actually get by quite well. Fear of the swamp and its cottonmouths and alligators is enough to keep any civilized person out, but when a hunter's dog jumps out of his canoe and gets lost in this swamp, its the love he (Dana Andrews) has for his dog that draws him deeper into the swamp and sets up the meeting with fugitive Walter Brennan. It turns out the swamp isn't so bad after all, as Andrews and Brennan team up to collect a valuable set of furs from the animals they've trapped. Back in the town the truth of the murder for which Brennan faces hanging emerges in a very well told story. Jean Renoir was able to bring the town into the swamp or vice versa in this beautifully filmed movie. For sure the best actor awards go to Walter Huston who plays Dana Andrews father, and whose second wife is being courted by another great, John Carradine. The primordial beauty of the swamp makes a nice contrast to the dramatic backwoods small town swamp of this slice of America.
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A big surprise
worldofgabby10 January 2010
I'm not really familiar with Renoir's movies: I watched "The Woman on the Beach" a number of years ago and enjoyed it for Robert Ryan's performance, and its unusual plot and characters (especially Charles Bickford as the blind artist.) Unlike others, my appreciation of "Swamp Water" was not affected by its comparison to other films by the great French director. I came across "Swamp Water" online and, not knowing anything about it, initially thought it was either a horror movie or one of those cornpone looks at the "poor ole souls" of the deep South. The film's credits lifted my spirits, and assured me that I was in for a surprise. And I was. I love this movie: the cinematography, the subtle characterizations, the dialogue (especially Brennan's cosmic musings.) Dana Andrews (never my favorite actor, always to me a poor man's Robert Ryan) is superb, Walter Brennan, as usual, transcendent, the women complex and not condescended to, and the array of familiar character actors round out the cast with their usual more than competent contributions. Swamp Water has a psychological and emotional complexity unusual for such a simply plotted film, and its haunting evocation of the mysterious region in which it is set assures it will remain one of my favorites.
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Impressive and Underseen
Michael_Elliott13 May 2010
Swamp Water (1941)

*** (out of 4)

Renoir's first American movie is quite impressive and if you viewed this thing without seeing the opening credits you'd swear it was made by someone like John Ford. The film takes place in the Georgia swamps where trapper Ben Ragan (Dana Andrews) gets lost in the swamp only to be rescued by fugitive Tom Keefer (Walter Brennan) who has been hiding there to avoid hanging. The two strike up a friendship but Ben must keep him secret while back at town all hell is breaking loose. I guess Fox respected the talent of Renoir enough to give him an all-star cast, something that not even John Ford would get at the studio. Sure, there are a few problems with this film but there's no denying it's technical beauty and the terrific cast makes it a must see. The cinematography is what really stands out here as the B&W footage is so beautiful that you can't help but get drawn into the atmosphere of this swampy land. A lot of the footage here was shot on location and you can't help but feel like the swamps is one of the main characters as you can just feel the dirtiness of the water and sense all the creatures living in it. There's some obvious back-projection but this doesn't take away from anything. As far as the cast goes we're in for a real treat. Andrews is very good in his role and Walter Huston is just as impressive as his father. Brennan gets top-billing but he's actually not in the film too much. There's some debate on his performance here but I thought it was a good one even if I didn't believe him in the role too much and I'm curious if it would have been better had Huston and Brennan switched roles. Ann Baxter, Virginia Gilmore, John Carradine, Joe Sawyer, Mary Howard, Ward Bond, Russell Simpson and Eugene Palette round out the supporting players and all them fill their roles nicely. Even if the story is lacking in parts, you can't take your eyes off the screen because this wonderful cast takes up every inch of film so you've constantly got something fun to see. I think the mystery around the killing Brennan was accused for is too easy to figure out but this too is just a minor point. Considering the cast and terrific cinematography, I'm somewhat surprised this film isn't better know. It's certainly not a masterpiece by any standard but there's enough here to make it worth viewing to any film buff.
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Gator-ate or Cotton-mouth bit?
dbdumonteil14 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
If you want to enjoy "Swamp water" you'd better forget all you know about Renoir's previous movies of the thirties.If it were a minor director,it would not be a problem.But Renoir is probably the greatest French director of the era ,and the French might feel disappointed because this film is completely impersonal.

That does not mean it's bad,by a long shot.The real star of the movie is this swamp water,these luxuriant landscapes which the cinematography in black and white perfectly captures.Dudley Nichols' screenplay is ,as always ,absorbing ,and even if some subplots are a bit far-fetched (Miss Hannah and Jesse" I'm only passing by" Wike)the story 's interest is sustained till the end.

Walter Brennan is convincing as Keefer ,the outcast.His daughter (Ann Baxter)is also some kind of Cinderella of the community.As Ben (Dana Andrews) is himself an orphan ,it's only natural that they hook up together.It also makes sense that he teams up with Keefer who becomes like a father to him.It 's only after he is knocked about that Thursday (Walter Huston)shows a true foster parent.

"Swamp water" is actually the story of three human beings who used to live on the fringe of society and become at last part of it.
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i enjoyed reading the comments on this film and would like to comment
katy19349 March 2004
i saw this film in 1941 as a child and would love to see it again. does any one know if it is out on video. and has turner classic movie ever had it on its schedule?

i really enjoyed reading the comments, it took me back to the good old days of movies of 1940's.Dana Andrews was always one of my favorite actors and this was one of his best movies, all the character actors in this movie (and their were many) were all extremely well played. i would really love to see this movie again, it has been over fifty years since i have seen it. what more can i say ? i loved it even as a child and still think it was a wonderful movie.

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You're a good man bud, but you've got to give it up now - you're in here for life.
hitchcockthelegend6 September 2013
Swamp Water is directed by Jean Renoir and adapted to screenplay by Dudley Nichols from the novel written by Vereen Bell. It stars Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Dana Andrews, Anne Baxter, Virginia Gilmore, John Carradine, Eugene Palette, Ward Bond and Guinn Williams. Music is by David Buttolph and cinematography by J. Peverell Marley.

Dana Andrews plays Ben, a young man who while searching for his dog out in the Okefenokee Swamp happens across fugitive Tom Keefer (Brennan). With Keefer swearing his innocence, the two men become friends and hunting partners. But it's not long before suspicions are aroused back in town...

Renoir's first American film is ultimately a lesser light from his output. Not helped by the interference from 20th Century Fox supremo Darryl F. Zanuck, Renoir still managed to craft a film of visual atmospherics that neatly cloak a salty observation of backwater inhabitants. Renoir purposely keeps the pace sedate, choosing his moments when to insert tenderness or peril into the morally murky play, his sense of character building a treat to observe. The swamp itself, actual location filming a major bonus, is the key character on show. It's a place feared by the locals because of the dangers that lurk there, but of course the swamp and its critters are nothing compared to the humans back in town...

All told it's very good film making, from cast performances, visuals and narrative worth, but you just come away knowing it should have been so much more. That it could have had an edge to keep you perched on the end of your seat throughout, and to then deliver a coup de grâce instead of the tacked on happy finale that we get. Something which of course wasn't of Renoir's doing... 7/10
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A DVD release of this film is in order.
translimbicpress31 December 2010
I wish I could remember when I saw this film on TV, but being a Renoir fan I was curious about it. The mood, the overall feel of the movie, was unusual and haunting. Given the cast, the acting was wonderful. It may not have done much for the tourist trade in the Okeefanokee swamp, but-- who knows?-- maybe it did. The film describes a style of life that was far from my experience, but it was believable. I recall loving Walter Huston's role. Comparing him in the Treasure of Sierra Madre where he seems shrunken and wizened, his large stature here shows what a towering presence he was on the screen. I have wanted to see this film again myself and keep looking for it on NetFlix.
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An Underrated Backwoods Film Noir
sorterdave30 June 2007
I viewed this film when it was released in 1941. At the time, I was six years old. The fact that it made a lasting impression on me is evidenced by the fact I still remember it vividly 66 years later.

The Okefenokee Swamp setting, complete with snakes, alligators and quicksand, provided a dark backdrop that served the plot well. It also gave this young boy a view of a part of American culture that I didn't know existed at the time.

Thinking of it today, I would call it a classic "innocent man" storyline with twists. Walter Brennan, Dana Andrews and Ann Baxter gave memorable performances and the chilling conclusion, tame by today's standards, is still remembered.

As I remember, it received mediocre reviews. I do not remember a TV release and believe that it could have been a cult classic if more people had seen it. If it was available on DVD today I would purchase it.
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dougdoepke30 April 2010
Backwoods trapper protects fugitive at same time he courts fugitive's daughter and feuds with his stepfather, while authorities close in.

Considering the talent involved (director Renoir, screenwriter Nichols), the movie's a disappointment. I know this is a minority opinion; however, in my view, the movie's pulled down by two factors—excessive theatricality (mainly Andrews & Gilmore) and phony rustic dialog. Hollywood was always at its dialog riskiest when putting words in the mouth of either the noble primitive or the backwoods illiterate. Here, it's the latter and I defer to reviewer Terrell 4 who cites good examples. The trouble is these two negative factors opened a distance between me and the screen, such that I couldn't suspend my disbelief. It was always a movie I was watching, not participating in.

That's not to say there aren't positive features. Walter Brennan appears a natural for his role and again shows why he was one of Hollywood's finest, most versatile actors. (Leonard Maltin who thinks Brennan miscast must be holding a grudge.) And I like Mary Howard as Hannah. She projects a quiet dignity and kindness just right for the role. Also, the location shots of the Okefenokee lend an authentic air. But, I would suggest to folks who like this film that they catch up with Frank Borzage's 1948 film Moonrise. The theme of outcasts among a backwoods swamp is quite similar to here, but the poetical treatment is, I believe, consistently superior.

In passing—Renoir's 1945 film The Southerner may have been inspired by the defects he couldn't undo in this film (Swamp Water was assigned him, he didn't choose it). The 1945 movie is also about the rural South, but much less artificial, without either the theatrical acting or the corn-pone dialog. Certainly, it's much closer to his usual style, and more of what would be expected of a world-class moviemaker.
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Tepid Swamp Water
GManfred29 June 2010
Went an' bought me this here DVD but 'taint as good as I hoped, ah reckon. Yep, might oughta got stuck for a wad o'money.

To tell you the truth, I don't know what I was thinking but I thought that IMDb's (over)rating of this picture would foretell some lively entertainment. I don't know why I thought a movie about backwoods country folk would be either lively or entertaining and I should have gone with my first instinct. It had an impressive cast, a renown director and a screenplay by Dudley Nichols - what more could you ask for.

Well, for one thing, a more compelling story. Apparently, not an awful lot happens in that neck of the woods. There was a fist fight, some arguing among the locals and a country dance. Oh, and John Carradine tried to hit on Walter Huston's wife. Most of the story is devoted to a character study between Dana Andrews, a passable actor, and Walter Brennan, a better one. Brennan is the nominal star of the picture as a fugitive from justice, but no one pursues him or even looks for him. But Huston, America's best film actor, is severely underutilized. To watch him was the main reason I bought the movie. It seems to have been filmed mostly on a soundstage with a couple of outdoor shots thrown in and has the feel of a filmed stageplay.

Well, ya cain't win 'em all. And I ain't recommendin' this pitcher to ya ennaways because it ain't interestin'. And that's a natchrel fact.
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More swamp needed
AAdaSC14 June 2011
Walter Brennan (Tom Keefer) has been on the run and made a life for himself in the Georgia swamplands after being wrongly accused of murder. Dana Andrews (Ben) comes across him when he goes looking for his dog and an alliance is formed. However, the townsfolk soon discover that Brennan is still alive as Andrews lets a few things slip to his girlfriend Virginia Gilmore (Mabel). It's up to Andrews to prove that Brennan is innocent and re-introduce him into society.

The film starts well as we find ourselves in the swamplands being directed by Jean Renoir with layers of depth to every shot. It's a great beginning, it's just a shame that the beginning section of the film couldn't have been maintained all the way through. We needed to spend more time in the swamp. The story in the town takes up the majority of time of the film.....and it shouldn't...

Almost everyone has an accent in this film which is a hindrance at times. Talk properly! Walter Huston as Andrews' father (Thursday) and Virginia Gilmore were the best of the cast and I think we needed more from these characters. Gilmore was gloriously spiteful and bitchy and Huston was broody and just ready to erupt, but sadly never got the chance to really let go at someone. The cast all do well but the story seemed to come to an end rather quickly. It would have been more effective to build more tension and see a confrontation between Brennan and the townsfolk.

There's a good scene where Brennan gets bitten in the face by a snake and we have a touching moment as Andrews prepares to bury him. The film needed more swamp action.
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A Jean Renoir film with corn pone accents; still, it's worth watching any Renoir movie
Terrell-44 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
When the Germans invaded France at the beginning of WWII, Jean Renoir had just directed three masterpieces...Grand Illusion (1937), La Bete Humaine (1938) and The Rules of the Game (1939). He escaped to Hollywood with little but an immense reputation and a poor command of English. So what did Hollywood do? Darryl F. Zanuck assigned him to a piece of swamp noir called Swamp Water. Renoir emerged with his reputation more or less intact, but as Zanuck said later, "Renoir has plenty of talent, but he's not one of us."

Swamp Water tells the story of young Ben Ragan (Dana Andrews), who lives in a small community on the edge of Georgia's Okefenokee swamp. The swamp is a fearsome place filled with gators, quicksand, cottonmouth water moccasins, tangled undergrowth and mosquitoes. The menfolk all hunt, trap and fish around the edges of the swamp, and so does Ben with his dog, Trouble. One day Trouble goes missing and Ben, over the objections of his stern father, Thursday Ragan (Walter Huston), goes into the swamp to find his dog. Ben finds the hound, but an escaped convict, Tom Keefer (Walter Brennan), finds Ben. Keefer years ago had been judged guilty of hog stealing and killing a man, but he escaped before he could be hanged. He's been living deep in the swamp ever since. When Keefer is bitten by a cottonmouth, Ben tries to save him. Keefer survives and instead of killing Ben or abandoning him in the swamp, decides he'll trust Ben. He explains to Ben what really happened and that no one will believe him. The two of them agree to become partners. Keefer and Ben will hunt and trap to collect skins. Ben will keep Keefer's secret and sell the skins back in town. Ben can become independent of his father; he'll also save half the money for Keefer's daughter, Julie (Anne Baxter). Julie thinks her father is dead and has been raised by others. She is ragged with dirty feet, and works hard.

Things are never simple, of course. Ben has a girlfriend to whom he by mistake shares his secret. She turns out to be a jealous flirt. There are two brothers who are tough, mean and who may be the real killers. There is Thursday Ragan's younger wife, who loves Thursday but longs for more companionship than Thursday is providing. There's Julie, who looks much better after a bath and wearing a pretty dress. And there's Ben himself, well-meaning, honest and a little naive, whose attempts to do the right thing often lead to more trouble.

What did Renoir manage to make of all this, his first American movie? I wish I could say "a masterpiece," but that would be gilding the corn pone. Renoir does a fine job of showing us the life of this small community; we get a real sense of a tiny place where everyone knows everyone else and, sooner or later, everyone else's business. He insisted that he go to the Okefenokee and finally Zanuck gave him permission. He took Dana Andrews and a camera crew and came back with enough footage that we get a real feeling for what the swamp is like, especially if you're by yourself in the place. He also created some first-rate set pieces...the opening gator hunt, Ben's search for his dog, Keefer going to drink in the swamp at night and being struck in the face by a cottonmouth, the loneliness of Thursday's wife, the community dance, and Keefer's return with Ben that leads to an ambush in the swamp and an unsettling conclusion for the bad guys that involves quicksand and abandonment. On the other hand, we have to listen to Andrews try on a Georgia cracker accent. "My dog" becomes "mah doag." Andrews is never just sure of something, he's "plumb sure." And I can't count the number of times he refers to Baxter as a "young 'un" or he is referred to as a "young 'un" by others. The three canny old hands in the movie, Walter Brennan, Walter Huston and John Carradine (in a smaller role) never let themselves be trapped by corny accents; they speak their lines straight and it's much more effective. Good performances are also given by such recognizable faces as Eugene Palette, Ward Bond and Guin Williams. To add insult to injury, Zanuck himself rewrote the ending and gave this sentimental scene to a hack contract director to finish.

All in all, Swamp Water is a movie Jean Renoir completists will eventually want to own, although I'm not sure how often you'll watch it after the first time.

I suspect that when Zanuck said "Renoir has plenty of talent, but he's not one of us," Renoir was delighted and enthusiastically agreed.
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Jean Renoir vs Okeefenokee Swamp
SFTeamNoir21 July 2020
An odd and darkly beautiful swamp noir directed by revered French director Jean Renoir. Dana Andrews charges into the eerie & dangerous wilds of the Okeefenokee to find his lost dog and encounters the ravaged but thriving fugitive Walter Brennan.
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Looking for Trouble...
punishmentpark9 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A more than decent drama film with some elements of thriller, crime and romance in it. This is still the only film by Jean Renoir I have seen so far - shame on me, I suppose - but it has an interesting enough story and the sets (studio and in nature) are a pleasure to look at, as are Anne Baxter and Virginia Gilmore, by the by. The acting is all very much in order. Characters like Tom, Ben, Thursday, Julie, Mabel, Hannah and 'the wild bunch' that hangs out at the store a lot, are plenty believable.

Other than that, there isn't a whole lot to say about it. It's the sort of film I like (as well), even if it is not a masterpiece. A small 8 out of 10.
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This is such a great movie
suzannji212 June 2014
This is such a great movie. I was about twelve when I first saw it--I watched it with my Daddy, who had lived a tent in the Everglades in 1939, and we sat in front of the fireplace and were enthralled.

We loved Ward Bond, who was a great actor. We talked about it for a long time afterward and it just resonated for us.

It was years later when I realized this movie was directed by Renoir, one of the most brilliant directors of all time, and what we were seeing really was a masterpiece.

The only other director I can think of who can match his artistry is Kurosawa. We've all got our own idiosyncratic tastes and feel passionate about the films we love (or hate). When we see a movie, it's not just the movie itself but when we saw it, where we saw it, who we were with, all of those things that make up the experience. For me, it was winter, a steak grilling over a wood fire, my father's laughter, the joy of us being together watching this movie we really enjoyed.

I love this movie, and think it's beautiful. But memory and emotion cloud my feelings, so watch it and decide for yourself.
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Zanuck and his Blow-up Dolls
LobotomousMonk10 March 2013
An ironic theme runs through this first American Renoir film - Fear Nature! Obviously, Zanuck and 20thC. Fox could have cared less about what Renoir had developed in his oeuvre up to that point. What mattered to them was that he had a reputation. Of course, in effect Zanuck could have found out Wayne Gretzky was a great athlete and so handed him a baseball bat requesting grand slam homeruns. Despite the troubles with the ignorant Hollywood producers, Renoir managed to direct a film and tell a story that is endearing and enduring. He also purveyed as much of his stylistic grace as was possible under the conditions (but it wasn't much). Great depth of field is utilized but conformed to a Hollywood brand of specularity - the gaze of the Other! Overall, Renoir has his hands tied as shot-reverse-shot systems, one-shot closeups, plan americain shot scales and decoupage classique continuity dominate. Even rear projection is used for the sky! When the camera isn't sneaking through the swamp representing the gaze of the other, the story is allowed to be told fluidly. Brutality versus chastity, God versus nature, redemption versus utilitarianism all have something strongly connected to Renoir's oeuvre. Brutality/Chastity in Swamp Water plays out at the bar and in Renoir's silent films like La Fille. God/Nature is continuously at play with Renoir especially in his inclusion of tropes like the river and the Pan character while in Swamp Water prayer can miraculously heal snake bites. Redemption/Utilitarianism was at the center of La Chienne, M. Lange, Bas Fonds and Marseillaise while in Swamp Water it is appropriated for familial relationships where one father uses his reputation to protect his kin and another father must redeem his reputation to do the same. Are these big ideas and themes dumbed-down then in Swamp Water? I believe that they are at the service of an audience that promotes film as escapist first and foremost. Therefore, the themes are played out with depth, but require some bushwhacking and personal exploration to access those deeper meanings. This film gets a lift from great acting (thank Renoir for that). Polyvocal systems from films like Illusion are replaced in Swamp by polytonal systems of Ben who speaks one way with the tom-girl (big papa), another with the blondie (suave romantic) and another with his father (whipping boy). This polytonal form contributes to added psychological identification. The rear projection was surely enjoyed by Zanuck while he was making love to his blow-up doll and munching on a Big Mac. The ascetic based answers provided for issues of freedom and justice are quaint for a contemporary viewer. Another inversion from Renoir's French work to Swamp Water is in its politics of justice where crime of necessity (M. Lange) is domesticated into crimes of opportunity while the revolutionary spirit of agitation disrupting order is status quoed into agitation ordering disruption. It might seem that this film is common, corny or campy... but Swamp Water somehow makes it out alive (like its characters from the swamps). For a North American viewer, the direction of Renoir leads to a fluid and clear telling of a story that has inherent appeal from the New World value system and is perhaps relayed better through the Frenchman than through a Hollywood director.
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Rotten title for a decent, characterful, vengeance drama.
CinemaSerf2 January 2021
"Ben" (Dana Andrews) is taking part in a manhunt through the swamp to track down long since escapee "Tom Keefer" (Walter Brennan) who has been hiding out there for many a year. His dog spots a deer drinking by the side of the river and jumps off their boat into the Okefenokee after it. Despite the sagacious counsel of his father (Walter Huston), he decides to set off into the undergrowth to try and reunite with his mutt. There he encounters their previous quarry and discovers things might not be so straightforward as he'd previously thought; especially when he returns and meets the fugitive's daughter "Julie" (Anne Baxter) and has to cross swords with the scheming "Dorson" brothers - Ward Bond and Guinn Williams (whom I swear has more than a passing resemblance to George W. Bush!). The story has an inevitability about it, but Brennan and Andrews, not for the first time, gel well - as do Andrews and the slightly doey eyed Baxter. Eugene Pallette - or at least his inimitable voice - helps keep it moving, alongside John Carradine and a gentle performance from Mary Howard making for an untaxing, but enjoyable enough thriller with some lovely cinematography and real life alligators!
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