Although it was not a great success at the box office (issue-oriented films were not what the public seemed to want in 1960), this dramatic tug-of-war between progress and tradition remains a memorable example of director Kazan at his best. Set in the 1930s, the story focuses on Clift, an
agent for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which is in the process of clearing land to build much-needed dams. This project cannot be accomplished without the demolition of many homes and the relocation of their inhabitants. One of Clift's most unpleasant tasks is the removal of Van Fleet, an
80-year-old widow, from her home. Van Fleet, who has lived on her land for more than 50 years, refuses to leave. As if Clift's plight isn't bad enough, the locals look upon him as an interloper and make his life miserable. Local whites grow particularly hostile when Clift treats the area's blacks
fairly, and it isn't long before some of the more racist townsfolk try to beat some sense into the TVA man. Nevetheless, Van Fleet's young widowed granddaughter, Remick, falls in love with Clift and they eventually marry. In time, Van Fleet finally gives up her battle, the land is flooded, and the
proud old woman dies shortly after moving into her new home.
An emotionally charged movie that offers little respite for the viewer, WILD RIVER was skillfully scripted by Osborn, masterfully directed by Kazan, and features excellent acting and strong production values. Shot on location in Tennessee at Lake Chickamauga, the Hiwassee River, and in the towns
of Cleveland and Charleston, this film was the end of a 25-year dream for Kazan. He had been to the area in the mid-1930s and always wanted to do a movie about the TVA, but it took more than two decades to find a studio and the right script to fulfill his desire. Many nonprofessional Tennesseans
appear in the film, lending it a realism seldom seen when Hollywood extras are employed. Kazan's wife, Barbara Loden, plays a small role, and if you keep an eye out you'll see a very young Bruce Dern appearing in his first movie. However, Van Fleet's performance is the film's standout; though she
was only 41 at the time the film was made, the actress is completely convincing as an 80-year-old, thanks in no small part to Ben Nye's wonderful makeup work. Clift also gives a fine performance. He was never easy to work with, as he had several personal problems, not the least of which was his
drinking and his difficulty in coming to grips with his homosexuality. Reportedly, he'd promised to stay off the sauce for the picture and kept his word until the final week when he went on a bender that almost submarined the movie.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Although it was not a great success at the box office (issue-oriented films were not what the public seemed to want in 1960), this dramatic tug-of-war between progress and tradition remains a memorable example of director Kazan at his best. Set in the 1930… (more)