A trapper's job turns into a battle of wits and a test of survival.
The movie Swamp Water is based on Vereen Bell's 1941 novel of the same name. We read the book a while back and loved it, so having a look at the movie adaptation was mandatory. Jean Renoir directs a heavyweight cast: Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Dana Andrews, an eighteen-year old Anne Baxter, and even John Carradine. Brennan is the key character, playing a murder suspect hiding in the Okefenokee Swamp. He's considered an all-time great actor, and here he plays a backwoods good ole boy, mouthing dialogue like, “I bet I been cottonmouth bit a dozen times.” When we heard that line we had to laugh, because it prefigures his famous soliloquy from 1946's To Have and Have Not about being “bit by a dead bee.”
There's more excellent dialogue in this. Our favorite line: “It's gettin' so I don't expect nothin' from you 'cept a bossified tongue and a cussin' out.”
While the script is fun, we didn't think Bell's book would be easily adaptable and we were right. One of the pleasures of the novel is its extensive focus on the geography of the swamp, but there was no way that could fit into the film. The air of deep foreboding and mystery is also missing. For those and other reasons what you end up with is a so-so old movie made from an excellent old book. The script closely follows the source material, so if you want to know a bit more about the plot, we posted a short write-up on the novel here. Swamp Water opened across the U.S. in November 1941, but before its national debut had a special premiere in the town of Waycross, Georgia, where much of the movie was made. That was today, 1941.
Why settle for an angel when a devil is so much more fun?
It's amazing the jams men in film noir get themselves into. Imagine you really like a woman but she wants financial security you can't offer. Would you try to satisfy her by marrying a completely different woman—a trusting nice girl type—with the plan of getting into her bank account, getting the marriage annulled, and walking with the cash? Of course not. You'd know a plan like that would come apart at the seams. But men in film noir don't. In Fallen Angel Dana Andrews craves sexpot Linda Darnell, and while we can certainly see a man losing his bearings over a stunner like her, the idea of her being worth destroying another woman's life is farfetched, especially when that woman is pretty and sweet. But in the capable hands of Andrews and Darnell, with Alice Faye and Charles Bickford co-starring and Otto Preminger in the director's chair, the plot actually works. And that's the beauty of film noir—the problems are often so convoluted you can't imagine how someone could get into them, let alone get out, yet often they do. On the other hand, often they don't. Fallen Angel premiered in the U.S. today in 1945.
Finnish poster skips the teasing and goes straight to the climax.
A while back we showed you the U.S. promo poster for the classic noir Laura. Today’s version comes from Finland, where the film was released today in 1945. December is a dark, chilly time in Finland, and Laura must have seemed an appropriate film, with its dark, spare story of a police detective who falls in love with a dead woman whose murder he’s investigating. The woman has been shotgunned in the face, and is personified in death by a beautiful portrait hanging over her mantel. The detective is completely baffled by the crime, but then a chance encounter brings everything into focus. If you haven’t seen the film, we recommend it highly. Gene Tierney is at her most icily beautiful, and Dana Andrews does good work as a man in love with a woman who no longer exists.
Unfortunately, the poster art actually gives away who the killer is by using a photo-realistic portrayal of the actor brandishing a shotgun. Maybe it’s too small for you to see in this format, so we won’t say more. But what a spoiler for the Finns that the artist—he’s signed the work as R.X.Z.—made that choice, or was told to by the studio. It isn’t as if the actor wouldn’t have been immediately identifiable by them, since he was reasonably famous at the time and in the midst of carving out one of Hollywood’s greatest careers. Total baffler, why it happened. Anyway, excellent movie. If you want to read more about it visit our original post here.
Don’t let the sun go down on me.
Above, a Japanese poster for the 1966 western Johnny Reno, starring Dana Andrews, Jane Russell, and Lon Chaney, Jr.
Gene Tierney was born with everything, but life took much of it away.
Her name was Gene Tierney and she lived a fairytale existence before ever becoming a movie star. Her parents and grandparents were wealthy. She attended the finest schools on the East Coast and was sent to finishing school in Switzerland. She decided she wanted a career in theater and her father formed a corporation to promote her ambitions. Even in her earliest, smallest stage roles, critics were dazzled by her beauty. Hollywood was a natural next step, and she took it by signing with Twentieth Century Fox and appearing in 1941’s Hudson Bay. The roles and good reviews kept coming, and soon she starred in Otto Preminger’s 1944 noir Laura, about a police detective who falls in love with the portrait of a dead woman. Or at least he thinks she’s dead. Tierney was perfect in the title role—that of a woman more beautiful yet more complicated than her alluring painted image. Laura was a hit and Tierney became a huge star.
But unbeknownst to most, Tierney’s fairytale existence had already taken a dark turn. She had married renowned designer Oleg Cassini in 1941 and by 1943 was pregnant. But the baby girl was born brain damaged because, while pregnant, Tierney had somehow contracted rubella, a form of measles transmitted through fluid emission, the same way flu can be passed. Tierney was consumed by anger and guilt over her daughter’s condition, but her career was in full swing and she managed to hide her anguish as the roles continued—A Bell for Adano and Leave Her to Heaven in 1945, Dragonwyck and The Razor’s Edge in 1946, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in 1947. At some point, at some public function or other, Tierney randomly encountered a woman who said they had actuallymet before, during one of Tierney’s appearances at the Hollywood Canteen. In fact, the woman had been in the Marines at the time and had wanted to meet Tierney so badly she had broken a quarantine to do so. It took another chance meeting with the same woman before Tierney put two and two together: “A year later, I met the same girl again on the tennis courts at a friend’s home in Hollywood. She reminded me of the night she had broken quarantine. 'I got the German measles,' she said. 'Did you get them, too?'" Tierney said that after the woman had recounted her story, she just stared at her silently, then turned and walked away. She wrote in her autobiography, “After that I didn’t care whether ever again I was anyone’s favorite actress.”
The revelation changed Tierney. By 1950 she was suffering from depression and bi-polar disorder, yet managed a good performance in another classic noir, Jules Dassin’s dazzling Night and the City. But while her reviews were still good, her marriage to Cassini was failing. They divorced in 1952. Tierney’s depression persisted and doctors treated her with electroshocks—thirty-two sessions that completely erased portions of her memory. Her fairytale life was gone. Meanwhile she was enduring a series of failed romances that led to even more depression. Her career sputtered and in 1955 she stopped acting. When she felt ready for a comeback in the early sixties, her star had faded. After several more roles, she settled into retirement in Texas and finally died of emphysema today in 1991. But Tierney is one of the most fondly remembered stars of Hollywood’s golden age, and one of the few who got to play a role that was so perfectly a metaphor for her life. Like the lovestruck detective in Laura, the public fell for a portrait that was beautiful but ultimately false. As Tierney’s cool-as-ice Laura Hunt said, “To him, I, like everything else, am only half real. The other half exists only in his own mind.”
Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?
Directed initially by Rouben Mamoulian and finished by the great Otto Preminger, this incomparable film noir featuring the stunning Gene Tierney had a can’t-miss premise—a detective falls in love with a woman whose murder he is investigating. Though the character of Laura Hunt is present only in the form of a portrait hanging above a fireplace, the dead woman soon dominates detective Dana Andrews’ thoughts. But nothing is as it seems, of course.
Like most great noirs, Laura’s premise has been reused and mashed-up, most notably in 1981’s Sharky’s Machine, but the original remains the best. Above you see the Spanish one sheet, with a depiction of Ms. Tierney by Catalan artist Josep Soligó Tena that doesn’t begin to do her justice even though it was based on a photograph. We do like the colors, though. We'll show you more posters later. Laura gazed out from movie screens for the first time in 1944, and finally made it to Spain today, in 1946.
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