Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1960. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Screenplay by Paul Osborn, based on novels by William Bradford Huie, Borden Deal. Cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks. Produced by Elia Kazan. Music by Kenyon Hopkins. Production Design by Herman A. Blumenthal, Lyle R. Wheeler. Costume Design by Anna Hill Johnstone. Film Editing by William Reynolds.
Montgomery Clift shows up in a small town as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority that has been set up following the river flood that killed thousands and devastated many homes. The federal government has made plans to build dams along the river that will prevent any future flooding, but is having trouble because, having appropriated all the land they need to accomplish this, they remain with one property still holding out: an old lady refuses to leave the island in the middle of the river upon which her home that she once shared with her husband is built. Clift is sent to talk some sense into the matriarch (Jo Van Fleet), meeting resistance but finding sympathy with her granddaughter (Lee Remick), with whom he is soon smitten. Meanwhile, in his position as head of the TVA, he attempts to integrate the labour being done in the town and stirs up a hornet’s nest of racial hatred and oppression that turns very dangerous for him. This obscure Elia Kazan classic, practically forgotten since it was released, is worthy for its excellent dialogue and extremely powerful performances. Clift’s acting, only three years on the screen following his highly publicized automobile accident, shows no sign of wear as he carries the entire film, but he is matched quite superbly by Van Fleet, whose turn as the ornery octogenarian is impressively real and commanding. Remick, who declared this her favourite of all her films, is impressively nuanced as the young woman who loves her grandmother but is anxious to move forward towards what is often labelled “progress” by the other characters. While the photography and sets do a wonderful job of getting a rich feel both for the period and the setting, the film’s intelligent screenplay gives a fascinating look at the multiplicity of American culture, and the conflicts between individualism and group thinking that often mark many of the controversial issues in American life.