Block Cinema

Feet First | 171

Friday, 25 February

Feet First | 171

I hadn’t been to a movie at the Block Gallery (on Northwestern’s campus) in years and then I ended up going twice in one weekend. First, I saw Wild River (1960), a movie set in Tennessee in the 1930s, when the Tennesse Valley Authority was evicting folks off their land to build a damn and flood the area in an effort to tame the river and avoid seasonal deadly flooding. It’s directed by Elia Kazan and stars Montgomery Clift as the TVA agent sent from Washington D.C. to get the final holdouts, a stubborn old woman and her family, to move off their land before the damn goes live.

This movie reminded me of Bad Day at Black Rock–a stranger rolls into town, a fish out of water who’s viewed with suspicion and hostility by the natives and must negotiate his way through unfamiliar (and sometimes life-threatening) territory. In Wild River, Montgomery Clift becomes personally involved with a local woman who just happens to be the old woman’s widowed granddaughter (wonderfully played by Lee Remick.) Spencer Tracy in Bad Day was never so lucky.

Wild River was shot in widescreen on location in Appalachia so it looks great and feels very authentic. The story is a bit odd at times, especially during a scene when an angry mob descends on the granddaughter’s house to harass Clift, but that might be a product of the film’s time and place. Overall, it was an interesting and absorbing tale, with great acting, especially by Jo Van Fleet as the wise and tenacious matriarch.

The next day, I was back to see Becky Sharp (1935), an adaptation of Thackery’s Vanity Fair starring Miriam Hopkins. This was just a lot of fun, with Hopkins perfect in the role of the flirtatious Becky, an orphan in Napolianic England who uses every one and every situation to advance her social standing. The costumes are eye-popping in the three-strip Technicolor of this restored print.

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