A prisoner set on serving his time gets recruited to save a pregnant woman trapped in a tree during a flood. A massive storm drives them farther from their destination ands they soon must decide to go off on their own, or find their way home.Written by
Just like when Jed Clampett was out shootin' for some food, I thought that I'd watch this movie because I was hungry to see every single version of William Faulkner's fiction put to film. I expected possum stew, but, lo and behold, this was quite the bubblin' crude. I mean, who would expect such a high quality movie to be made for television, a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, at that? Well, the script was written by Horton Foote, most famous, I imagine, for his script for To Kill a Mockingbird. The original story is half of Faulkner's masterpiece If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, which brilliantly alternates between the stories Old Man and The Wild Palms (a name by which the novel has also been known). The Wild Palms is the better half of the novel, I think most people would agree. It's a tragedy about a woman who leaves her husband for a young man studying to become a doctor. The resulting scandal forces them to wander around the country, and the story ends with the gravest tragedy. Old Man, on the other hand, is a comedy. Where The Wild Palms presents a sickly and pained relationship, Old Man presents a parody of a marriage. A convict (Arliss Howard) is enlisted to help save people who are caught in the flood of 1927, perhaps the largest the United States has ever seen (it completely covered most of the South for miles on both sides of the Mississippi, and probably most other rivers, as well). He is specifically sent to rescue a young woman in a tree and a man stuck on top of the roof of a cotton house. Well, although he doesn't know how to control the boat, he does find the woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn). He never finds the man on the cotton house roof, but he does find the woman in the tree, and she's eight and a half months pregnant. They get lost on the giant lake which was the South. Though the opportunity for escape, for a whole new life presents itself almost constantly, Howard refuses to take it. He's stubborn; he only has nine more years to serve (for a silly, attempted train robbery that barely got off the ground), and, dammit, he's gonna serve them no matter what. The movie consists of little more than muted conversations between the chattering woman and the convict of few words. A kind of love arises between them. This doesn't happen the same way in the original story. In fact, my sense was that the convict, who had been in jail since the tender age of 19, had had no experience with women whatsoever and was downright afraid of both the woman and her baby, who is born in the first couple of days afloat. The comedy of this half of the novel is lessened and the work is made more dramatic. Without the tragedy of The Wild Palms, this actually works very well. The two lead performances are great. I would never expected this amount of depth from Tripplehorn, whose career has been middling at best. This proves her to be a viable actress. Arliss Howard, though I've seen him in a hundred movies, several of which are personal favorites, I do not recognize whatsoever. His performance in this film is nothing short of masterful, just magnificent.
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