Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Jean Renoir's "Swamp Water"

Swamp Water (1941) is an American crime drama set in the Okefenokee Swamp, Waycross, Georgia. The film was directed by Jean Renoir and stars Walter Brennan, Walther Huston, Anne Baxter, and Dana Andrews. The strong supporting cast includes Virginia Gilmore, John Carradine, Mary Howard, Eugene Pallette, and Ward Bond.

When Ben Regan (Andrews) goes looking for his dog in the Okefenokee Swamp, he encounters Tom Keefer (Brennan). Keefer is wanted for murdering Deputy Shep Collins. Keefer claims he is innocent. Ben and Keefer form a partnership with Ben selling animals that the two of them trapped. Part of the money that they earn from trapping goes to Julie (Baxter) who is Keefer’s daughter.

Will the actual murderer be revealed? Will Keefer return to normal life as an innocent man?

Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews

Jean Renoir (1894 - 1979) was a French film director, writer, and producer. He directed more than forty films. Renoir worked during the silent era until the end of the 1960s. Two of his films La Grande Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) are considered among the greatest films ever made. Renoir fled to the United States when Germany invaded France in 1940. He came to Hollywood and directed Swamp Water (1941) starring Dana Andrews, This Land is Mine (1943) starring Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton. The Southerner is considered Renoir’s best American film. Other films he made in America include Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) and Woman on the Beach (1947). He is the son of the renowned artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Walter Brennan (1894 – 1974) was an American character actor and three-time Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor. Brennan is the only actor male or female to win three awards in the supporting actor category. He got his start as an extra in silent films and eventually made the transition to talking pictures. By the late-1930s, Brennan was one of Hollywood's most sought-after and highest-paid character actors. Some of Brennan’s movies include Three Godfathers (1936), Kentucky (1938), The Westerner (1940), Meet John Doe (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), My Darling Clementine (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), and How the West Was Won (1962).

Walter Huston (1883 - 1950) was a Canadian singer, stage, and film actor. He is also the patriarch of the Huston clan which includes his writer-director son John, and his granddaughter, actress Anjelica. Huston worked in the theater, with roles on Broadway where he debuted in 1924. Once talking pictures began in Hollywood, Huston worked as both a leading man and also a character actor. Some of Huston’s films include The Virginian (1929), Rain (1932), Gabriel Over the White House (1933), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, directed by his son John. Huston’s last film was The Furies (1950) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck and Wendell Corey.

Anne Baxter (1923 – 1985) won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Sophie MacDonald in The Razor’s Edge (1946). She was signed to a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox in 1940. In 1948, Baxter starred in four movies, with Yellow Sky being her most prominent role to date. She went on to have a prolific career in film, television, and theater. She is probably best known for her Oscar-nominated performance as Eve Harrington in All About Eve. Frank Lloyd Wright was Baxter’s grandfather.

Dana Andrews (1909 – 1992) was an American stage, film, and television actor. During the 1940s, Andrews was a major star and leading man starring in Laura (1944), State Fair (1945), A Walk in the Sun (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Canyon Passage (1946), Boomerang! (1947), and Daisy Kenyon (1947), the latter co-starring Joan Crawford and Henry Fonda. During the 1950s, film roles were harder to come by, but he had success in Elephant Walk (1954) co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Finch, While the City Sleeps (1956), and Curse of the Demon (1957). In 1958 he replaced Henry Fonda on Broadway in Two for the Seesaw. Andrews worked a lot on television guest-starring on shows like The Twilight ZoneCheckmateThe Barbara Stanwyck ShowBen Casey, The Love BoatIronside, and Falcon Crest. He also starred in the daytime soap opera Bright Promise (1969 - 1971).

Swamp Water trivia

  • Linda Darnell was originally cast as Julie. Gene Tierney was also under consideration for the role.
  • Director Jean Renoir and studio chief Darryl Zanuck butted heads during the film's production with Renoir wanting to shoot on location and Zanuck wanting to shoot on sound stages and the backlot.
  • Lillian Gish was considered for the role of Hannah.
  • Jean Gabin and Henry Fonda were announced for the role of Ben before Dana Andrews was cast.
  • Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, Anne Baxter, and Walter Huston would star in North Star (1943).
  • Dana Andrews was the only actor who actually filmed on location in Georgia.

To join the discussion online on March 20, 2023, at 6:30 p.m., click here. When you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a link to join the discussion on Zoom. 

To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

Discussion questions

  1. The film had an impressive cast; did anyone cast member stand out to you?
  2. Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews were in the early stages of their film careers. Would you have predicted stardom for them both?
  3. Some critics thought Walther Brennan was miscast. What did you thik of his performance?
  4. Did the on-location filming enhance the film?
  5. Did anything about the movie surprise you?

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