Monday, February 25, 2013

Wild River

Two of my current fascinations Montgomery Clift and Elia Kazan come together in a film I saw as part of the BFI's Montgomery Clift season last night - Wild River (1960). As with all the films that these two great artists have made it did not disappoint.

It was a really important film for Kazan who wanted to imbibe the lead character Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift) with all the idealism that he himself had in the 1930s. Chuck works for the TVA and thinks he can make people's lives better by implementing a scheme to dam the Tennessee River which will prevent floods and provide electricity. The only fly in the ointment is that some people don't want to sell the land that needs to be flooded to allow the scheme to go ahead. Glover travels to Tennessee to smooth things over, sees that things are more complex, upsets the status quo by employing a black labour force at equal pay, falls in love with one of the 'enemies', and gets attacked by a mob.

The other stars of the film are Jo Van Fleet who plays the unmoving matriarch Ella Garth and a luminous Lee Remick in one of her first film roles who plays her granddaughter and Glover's love interest Carol.

The film looks great - shot on location in Tennessee the landscape is vast and the skies are always blue (whenever it isn't raining). Jo Van Fleet is also very good as the feisty old lady. But of course it is Monty and more surprisingly Remick that hold the fascination for me. Their faces are so enthralling and their personas so captivating that I wanted them on screen the whole time. Their affair is depicted in a wholly unusual way - nothing explicit is ever shown but the erotic tension between them is palpable. A comment from the IMDb message board explains one such scene...

I like the scene where Clift tells Remick not to walk around in front of him, then she goes to the cupboard at the back of the room and gives herself a splinter, only then does Clift embrace her. I like the way it is staged, it is unusual for the emotional height of a scene to take place so far from the camera, it feels more genuine than if they were just shot in ever tighter close ups.

In fact Clift rushes to Remick when she exclaims in pain and proceeds to vigorously suck her finger before they embrace - wow.

Apparently Kazan originally wanted Brando for the part (because as he says he wanted Brando for everything at the time) and Marilyn was mooted for Remick's part. This would of course have changed everything. Kazan says that he altered the emphasis of the film to fit Monty - he realised that he couldn't convincingly play the dominant partner in the relationship with Remick and so he switched things to make her take the lead. This makes the film very different from standard 1950s fare and very contemporary.

The film didn't get much a release in 1960 as the studio didn't think it would find an audience and it is generally pretty much unseen. If you get the chance I wholly recommend it.

As for Monty I'll leave you with these words from Trevor Johnson's intro to the BFI's Montgomery Clift season. ... 'He lived fast, he died young, and he remained cool enough to have The Clash write their song The Right Profile about him…. "That’s Montgomery Clift, honey!".

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