Montgomery Clift only made 17 films, yet his career encompasses so many great films and torturous performances. When he’s on camera I can hardly notice anyone else appearing on the screen. Strong statement considering his list of legendary co-stars including the Duke, Gable, Monroe and Sinatra. And let’s not forget Liz Taylor, either.
He’s that mesmerizing. Perhaps Clift’s magnetism is heightened by the fact that I know about many of his off-screen demons. Either way I’m always happy to have another look at most any of his film roles.
“I like things running wild like nature made’ em.” This from Jo Van Fleet, playing an 80-year-old woman (at the actual age of 46). When the lands are all bought up surrounding the Tennessee River in the early 1930s with the intention of flooding the plains to prevent the annual flooding and destruction of lands and property, Van Fleet is the final holdout who refuses to sell her plot of land surrounded on all sides by the wild river of the title.
Monty is sent in by government agencies to convince her and her brood to sell the land and vacate the premises. This includes her widowed granddaughter played by Remick who has two small children of her own, a group of layabouts like Jay C. Flippen and a settlement of African-American workers living off the land.
Racial tensions increase when Monty hires the black workers at the same wages that the white crews are earning clearing out the land. This doesn’t sit well with bigot Albert Salmi, who is losing his cotton pickers to Monty over the increase in wages.
There is plenty going on here, as is the custom in a Kazan film. The focus shifts easily from Clift fencing with Van Fleet over the worth of her land to helping the down-and-out Remick find new meaning to her life after becoming a widow at a young age. For Van Fleet it’s an argument of progress vs. the taking of one’s soul. Money isn’t even an issue. Monty finds himself in a tough bind as his respect for Van Fleet increases throughout despite her waging a losing battle.
Kazan does a really nice job here of capturing images that relate to a 1930s feel in a backwoods poverty stricken area. Many of the images and characters he captures have a very serene feel to them. While I was not alive in 1960, I do suppose that the film was timely in that it dealt with racial tensions in the South–though in the past. His closing shot is really fitting and quite striking.
With all the drama going on in the film’s 110-minute running time it’s interesting to note that the trailer for the movie pushed the sexual angle of Clift and Remick more than anything else and doesn’t really say much about the actual plot within.
Once again Monty’s performance grabs me and Remick is fine as a woman who refuses to go backwards once her eyes have been opened to a future with Monty. If you haven’t watched too many of Monty’s small library of films, give them a try as he’s worth your time.
Raise your hand alongside of mine if you are a self-confessed Bruce Dern fan. This is Bruce’s film debut and he gets to share a couple of scenes with Monty and Mr. Salmi. Nice to know he’s still on the go fifty plus years later.
Wild River was also nicely captured on a Blu-ray release not too long ago if you are looking to add it to your shelf.
Mike is a Canadian-born collector of films and film memorabilia living in Ontario, Canada. He’s always on the lookout for rare and hard-to-find movies and loves to study the history of both films and film stars from the past. The creation of Mike’s Take on the Movies was started as an extension of his hobby and passion for films and their history.