Combustible Celluloid
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With: Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Virginia Gilmore, John Carradine, Mary Howard, Eugene Pallette, Ward Bond, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Russell Simpson, Joe Sawyer, Paul E. Burns, Dave Morris, Frank Austin
Written by: Dudley Nichols, based on a novel by Vereen Bell
Directed by: Jean Renoir
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 88
Date: 10/23/1941

Swamp Water (1941)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Cottonmouth Club

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1940, Jean Renoir fled Nazi-occupied France and came to the United States where, typically, studio heads had no idea how to treat a master filmmaker of his ilk. His first American film, Swamp Water (1941), almost feels like the work of someone else, although it still contains a few of its maker's signature themes, and it's an excellent entertainment in any regard. Ben (Dana Andrews) ventures into the vast, deadly Okefenokee Swamp to find his lost dog, and accidentally runs into escaped fugitive and accused murderer Tom Keefer (Walter Brennan). They eventually become partners and form a trapping business, but Ben's long absences rub both his controlling father, Thursday (Walter Huston), and his fickle sweetheart (Virginia Gilmore) the wrong way. At the same time, he becomes closer to Tom's grown daughter, Julie (Anne Baxter), and begins to promise her a new life when her father returns. Meanwhile, creepy Jesse Wick (John Carradine) begins hanging around Thursday's second wife a bit too much, leading to a confrontation with Ben. Dudley Nichols wrote the screenplay (from a novel by Vereen Bell), and while he delicately balances the novel's intricate plotlines, he also imbues the movie with his trademark seriousness; in this case it works. It elevates the pulp to the level of art. Because of Nichols and because of a selection of recognizable stock players (Carradine, Ward Bond, etc.), many have said that Swamp Water seems like a John Ford film, but moments of delicate humanity, as when Ben steps into the line of fire to prove to Tom that he's really a friend, are all Renoir.

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