Director Kazan opens Wild River with newsreel footage of the Tennessee River at flood. The film is set in the 1930s, something else the newsreel footage establishes. Kazan and screenwriter Paul Osborn spend the least amount of time possible setting up the film. The newsreel takes care of setting, when lead Montgomery Clift starts his new job, he talks to his secretary, taking care of ground situation. River’s quick start lets Kazan fill every minute of the film.
The Tennessee River floods and the dam Clift’s federal employee is in town to build are barely subplots by the end of the film. They’re details, because it turns out–even though the ground situation’s established–River is more about what happens after Clift decides to poke around in it (since he’s new). That poking around leads to Clift meeting Lee Remick and Wild River is really their relationship and how it affects, and is affected, by the events occurring around them.
There are subplots with Remick and Jo Van Fleet (as her grandmother, who won’t leave her land), Van Fleet and Clift and then Clift and his forced desegregation of the town. Osborn and Kazan never force anything dramatically; the film has a very specific setting, geographic and in time. What could be melodramatic shortcuts are instead sublime, sometimes painful details.
The acting’s amazing–Clift, Remick, Van Fleet. Remick’s probably the best.
Ellsworth Fredericks’s photography and Kenyon Hopkins’s music also exceptional. And Kazan nails every shot.
Wild River is superior.
Produced and directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Paul Osborn, based on novels by William Bradford Huie and Borden Deal; director of photography, Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by William Reynolds; music by Kenyon Hopkins; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Montgomery Clift (Chuck Glover), Lee Remick (Carol Garth Baldwin), Jo Van Fleet (Ella Garth), Albert Salmi (Hank Bailey), Robert Earl Jones (Sam Johnson), Jay C. Flippen (Hamilton Garth), James Westerfield (Cal Garth), Big Jeff Bess (Joe John Garth), Judy Harris (Barbara Baldwin), Barbara Loden (Betty Jackson) and Frank Overton (Walter Clark).