LURE OF THE WILDERNESS
(director: Jean Negulesco; screenwriters: based on the novel by Vereen Bell/Louis Lantz; cinematographer: Edward Cronjager; editor: Barbara McClean; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Jean Peters (Laurie Harper), Jeffrey Hunter (Ben Tyler), Constance Smith (Noreen McGowan), Walter Brennan (Jim Harper), Tom Tully (Zack Tyler), Harry Shannon (Pat McGowan), Will Wright (Sheriff Clem Brink), Jack Elam (Dave Longden), Pat Hogan (Harry Longden), Harry Carter (Ned Tyler), Robert Karnes(Jack Doran); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert L. Jacks; 20th Century Fox; 1952)
“If you saw the original, there’s no need to see this version.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Remake of the superior Jean Renoir “Swamp Water” (1941), with Walter Brennan returning to play the same part of the innocent fugitive hiding in the swamp. It’s based on the novel by Vereen Bell and is written by Louis Lantz, who keeps it straightforward just changing a few situations around but adding no new thoughts. If you saw the original, there’s no need to see this version. This version is in color and is also filmed mostly on location at the Okefenokee swamp, but the Technicolor doesn’t seem to be an improvement on the old black and white version; in fact, it might bring the film down a notch as the color takes away from the more suspenseful darker mood set in Swamp Water.
Director Jean Negulesco (“The Mask of Dimitros”/”Three Coins in the Fountain”/”Daddy Long Legs”)works with a less skilled cast than Renoir, but his direction has a good control of the material and he adequately shows how a falsely accused man can easily become paranoid, world-weary and so filled with suspicions for mankind.Though it pales in comparison to Renoir’s version, it’s still able to stand on its own as solid melodrama entertainment.
Set in 1910 in Georgia’sOkefenokee swamp, an unlivable place for man but home to poisonous snakes, alligators and panthers. Nice guy Ben Tyler (Jeffrey Hunter) and his gruff father Zack (Tom Tully) are in the swamp to help search for two lost trappers with their fellow citizens from Fargo, the rural town that borders the swamp. The trappers are not found, but their overturned boat is located. The unsuccessful search also brings more bad news when Ben’s beloved hound dog Careless runs off in the swamp and the next day against the wishes of his dad Ben goes alone searching the perilous swamp for Careless. Ben finds the dog, but is taken hostage by Jim Harper (Walter Brennan) and his beautiful wild-eyed swamp daughter Laurie (Jean Peters). Jim is an innocent fugitive, who was framed for the murder of two men because he didn’t get a fair trial. According to straight-shooter Jim, “he killed one of the men in self-defense, but that the other was murdered by the goon Longden brothers, Dave and Harry (Jack Elam & Pat Hogan).” Running away to the swamp with his young daughter eight years ago from a lynch mob, unable to wait for a trial, Jim learned how to survive in such miserable conditions. The pair hold Ben hostage, as they fear he will bring back with him the law if they him go. But the suspicious duo have a change of heart when everyone bonds over the old man’s snake bite, and they provide Ben with otter pelts to sell to raise money to hire an expensive lawyer for a new trial.
The action revolves around Ben ditching his bitchy girlfriend Noreen (Constance Smith) for Laurie, and the jilted lover paying Ben back by reporting him to the sheriff for knowing where Harper is hiding in the swamp. But we soon learn that not all mankind is bad, as Ben’s father petitions for a new trial allowing the fugitive to return home. When brought home by Ben the criminal brothers fail to kill the happy returning party and are left to die in the swamp. The local community is friendly now, knowing for sure that Jim’s innocent.
REVIEWED ON 4/7/2012 GRADE: B-