1 February 2011

WILD RIVER (Dir. Elia Kazan, 1960, US) - Tormented

Lee Remick and Montgomery Clift in Kazan's Wild River.

Towards the end of his tragic career, a neurosis was plainly visible in the vulnerable figure of Montgomery Clift. It was vulnerability that he fought to overcome all his life but the guilt of his homosexuality during an age of puritanical conservatism made him a classic outsider. Clift was a terrific actor and an extremely good looking one at that who was subscribing to Stanislavsky’s method approach long before Brando and Dean appeared on the scene with their brash poster boy over sexed egos. Referred to as Kazan’s forgotten masterpiece, Wild River is a complex work that initially offers a melodramatic conflict between the rural and urban but gradually turns into a poignant commentary on human connections. Loneliness is an affliction and symptom of modernity that unites the characters of Clift, Lee Remick and Jo Van Fleet who as the aging matriarch refuses to sell her land to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Chuck Glover (Clift) working on behalf of the TVA arrives with instructions to convince Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet) to sell and move in time before she is formally evicted by the local authorities. However, he soon falls for Remick, a woman who is fragile and broken as himself. Whilst the representation of race especially black Americans is somewhat suspect, Ella Garth’s defiant stance becomes an emblem of tradition and survival. Like many of Kazan’s best films, it is the undercurrent, be it social, political or sexual that ensures the conflict of values are merely not dramatic but ideologically pertinent. Along with Judgement at Nuremberg and The Misfits, Wild River would be one of Clift’s final performances before his tragic death in 1966, aged only 45.

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