(director: Elia Kazan; screenwriters: Paul Osborn/based on the novel “Mud on the Stars” by William Bradford Huie and the novel “Dunbar’s Cove” by Borden Deal; cinematographer: Ellsworth Fredricks; editor: William Reynolds; music: Kenyon Hopkins; cast: Montgomery Clift (Chuck Glover), Lee Remick (Carol Baldwin), Jo Van Fleet (Ella Garth), Jay C. Flippen (Hamilton Garth), Big Jeff Bess (Joe John Garth), Albert Salmi (Hank Balley),James Westerfield (Cal Garth), Pat Hingle (Narrator), Frank Overton (Walter Clark), Barbara Loden (Betty Jackson), Malcolm Atterbury (Sy Moore), Bruce Dern (Jack Roper), Robert Earl Jones (Sam Johnson); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Elia Kazan; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1960)
“Evocative sociological/historical melodrama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Elia Kazan (“America, America”/”Pinky”/”East Of Eden”) directs this evocative sociological/historical melodrama getting across his old-fashioned liberal views. It’s one of his best efforts and that has to do with it being less theatrical and more genuinely moving than his usual endeavors, as it features a battle of progress versus tradition. It was shot on location in the Tennessee Valley, and is set in October, 1933. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal has Congress create the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in May 1933 to stop the deadly flooding of the powerful Tennessee River and bring progress to the poverty-stricken area through the construction of a series of dams. Paul Osborn is the screenwriter; it’s based on the novel “Mud on the Stars” by William Bradford Huie and the novel “Dunbar’s Cove” by Borden Deal.
A young idealistic clean-cut field administrator for the TVA, Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift), just arrives in a small Tennessee town and is given the assignment of removing an obstinate 80-year-old woman, Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet), who won’t sell to the TVA. Ella lives on an island along the banks of where the TVA will pass through and the stern matriarch of her clan, who also rules over some Negro farmhands, won’t leave unless she’s forced to. If she doesn’t leave, the land will be flooded by the new dams. It’s pointed out by Glover that the dam will bring electricity to the valley, but Ella believes the government is trying to take her soul by forcing her to move and she believes in nature being untamed.
Carol Baldwin (Lee Remick) is Ella’s pretty but frustrated granddaughter, who is a lonely widow living on the isolated Garth Island with her two small children. She’s set to marry an elderly man she is not in love with, Walter Clark (Frank Overton), but after spending a night together in the house with Glover, where Carol once lived in with her husband, the two become romantically involved.
Glover also has to deal with the local leading citizens who are racists and don’t cotton to the Negroes getting paid the same wages as the whites.
The 46-year-old Van Fleet was made to look elderly by her make-up artist, and not only looked the part but gave an animated heartfelt performance that gave the film its edge. She’s the prideful lady with principles who refuses to be bullied by the government and doesn’t care a lick about progress, but only cares about dying in the land, with “good bottom land,” the land her family built from scratch. Lee Remick never gave a more sensitive or better performance. Clift is superb as the liberal feeling his way around such “conservative” terrain in a low-key way. Albert Salmi is imposing as the smiling but roughneck bigot who roughs up Glover; James Westerfield, Jay C. Flippen and Jeff Bess (a Nashville radio announcer) are Miss Van Fleet’s oafish redneck sons; and Robert Earl Jones is the dignified Negro farmhand who remains loyal to Ella. Bruce Dern made his film debut in a bit part.
REVIEWED ON 1/1/2008 GRADE: A-