All Considerd Quite Remarkable ~ Warning: Swamp Proof Cigarettes
Seems there maybe some viewers with expectations that are too high for small budget works and maybe too many pseudo psychologists floating around to really do us much good...**
After reading several comments I just about gave up taking the time to view this curious movie. It was the interesting title, combined with a marvelous cast and hard working director, that convinced me I had to at least watch it out of curiosity. What I saw took me by surprise, so much so I had to look further into how this little film could look so remarkable ~ on such a modest budget. The crew behind this overlooked gem, all surprisingly turn out to be veteran award winners!
Cinematographer: the Russian born veteran and Oscar nominated Harold Lipstein (Pal Joey '57) ~ Art Direction: by no less than 'multiple' award winner Cedric Gibbons along with fellow award winner Malcolm Brown. ~ Set Decoration: again by a multiple award winner: Edwin B. Willis and Oscar nominated Ralph S. Hurst. ~ Film Edited by: Oscar winner Conrad A. Nervig (Tale of Two Cities '35) ~ Special Effects: by A.Arnold Gillespie (Wizard of Oz '39) and Warren Newcombe (Singin In The Rain '53) both these men also 'multiple' award winners!. In the Sound dept: none other than Douglas Shearer, yet another multiple award winner. How could this film not look anything but good? Still, some viewers winged!
Add to the above a top cast with awards that just keep on coming: Vittorio Gassman as Jory, the desperate man on the run, a performer with honors stacked upon honors (Bitter Rice '49, Barabbas '61) ~ Emmy winner Polly Bergin: as the Detectives wife. ~ Barry Sullivan the Emmy nominated, constantly reliable performer, known for numerous strong roles (The Bad and the Beautiful '52) as the earnest detective totally dedicated to serving incorruptible justice. ~ William Conrad as the sadistically inclined assistant to Sullivan (who also has his eye on his partners job). A couple of the support characters offer a not so subtle comment on some low grade law enforcement, especially those to be found in backwoods counties during this era ~ there's a good performance by veteran Harry Shannon as a very 'suss' sheriff.
All this huge talent is then masterly guided by the highly skilled and underrated winner of the Distinguished Hollywood Film Artist award: Joseph H. Lewis. As Director, Lewis has taken a screenplay by Jack Leonard who garnished an Oscar nomination just the year before with "The Narrow Margin". For this follow up story, equally laced with observant comments and smart one liners, Lewis turns it into a taught, exciting wilderness manhunt between two men with a high respect for each other's integrity (gained from fair legal dealings earlier) but are on opposing sides of justice.
I note that there are certain liberationists who in retrospect, would now have us believe these men are sexually attracted to each other...why?, well seems it's because of the understandable respect these men show toward each other after one has saved the other from a grueling certain death, then, wait for it.... they sit exhausted against a tree and quietly 'share' a cigarette!. "Hello"... I've heard of having imagination, but wish these folk would learn to use it with perhaps a little more nous. ** Looking into this further; it's a documented fact that cigarette manufacturers targeted 'personalites', film makers, actors etc - 'donating' hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure they would make smoking appear glamorous, desirable, for both sexes of any age. Many times throughout the 30s - 60s, foolish scenes (like those in this film) would be 'written-into' the screenplay for the sake of extra funding. In this case - consider the obviousness; these cigarettes have been crushed, immersed in swamp water, covered in mud (and quicksand!) but still they 'light up' to pacify the weary heroes!. Resent critiques I have read from such as Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward & Eddie Muller don't seem to take these facts into consideration, instead they quite simply interpret such actions as being homosexual tendencies. Should we perhaps expect better from these folk...or could this be seen as simply pushing other agendas, who really knows...?
Now back to better ideas. There's a couple of particularly striking scenes...one where a swamp fever infected and delusional Sullivan, suffers what can only be seen as a spectacular and rather frightening hallucination. This sequence is designed and executed by first class artists and is vividly convincing. Another involves Sullivan and his partner who, while taking refuge in an abandoned swamp Cemetery, come into contact with a demented mourner, quite chilling in it's Shakespearian feel and quality. Apart from a few minor script potholes, typical to the era, this work needs to be looked at through eyes that understand the limitations these major/minor projects were forced to overcome, and did so quite handsomely. Pleased TCM have given us yet another lost gem - the image quality of the Australian print is not as good as others being screened so, being MGM, wonder if it's available out there...on a 'studio quality' DVD?
Like small budget classic dramas? ~ then this could be for you.... KenR
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