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DANA ANDREWS IN THE JEAN RENOIR RURAL 'SWAMP WATER'

Opening Credit Sequence with Terrific Swamp Water font
Despite critic Leonard Maltin's opinion that Walter Brennan was outrageously miscast in Jean Renoir's SWAMP WATER, set in the mysterious Georgian Okefenokee with more of a rural John Ford style than Renoir's own "foreign film" masterpiece, GRAND ILLUSION, Brennan's actually, surprsingly quite effective as an escaped convict with a "Wrong Man" backstory; a bizarre mental ability to survive otherwise deadly Cottonmouth bites...

And last but not least, a love for Dana Andrews's hunting dog that got himself lost, past a spooky skull on a post in the river, a warning to never go beyond that dangerous, even legendary, restricted area. So on his next trip, this time alone, just for the pooch, fitfully named Trouble – the best hunting dog around – Dana's Ben Ragan goes that extra dangerous mile to retrieve him...

Release Year: 1941
This ghostly, suspenseful, contained yet sporadically adventurous programmer is only hindered by a few side-characters (including otherwise capable heavies Ward Bond and Guinn Williams) who seem more befitting a dusty saloon town then backwater nowhere, and, surprisingly enough, Western-genre staple Brennan – seeming as agile and dangerous as his threats spoken in that signature drawl – isn't a culprit of the Cowboy cliche...

Dana Andrews, early in his career before the star-making turn in LAURA, is natural and effective – how surprising such a "Hollywood Handsome" leading man with a "city" voice could realistically portray someone so rural, who's never been outside the murky swamp-surrounded village – smaller than even one horse.

Dana Andrews in Swamp Water
Despite fourth-billing to the already-established Brennan and his stubborn father played by Walter Huston, Andrews is the buried lead throughout, and what he holds back from the gossiping village overrides pretty local girl Virginia Gilmore he plans to marry (both would appear again in BERLIN CORRESPONDENT); or the fact he desperately yearns to move out of his daddy's tiny shack: That being, the secret of Brennan's Tom Keefer, a fugitive accused of murder, rumored to be long gone yet actually lurking very nearby: always keeping a tight eye on gator hunters, including the men who sentenced him to hang – mostly, though, he's tortured about the daughter left behind...

Swamp Score: ****
And there's Dana's future FALLEN ANGEL co-star John Carradine, fresh THE GRAPES OF WRATH, as the most ambiguous and bizarre character, with a strapped-on guitar and a lusty penchant for Huston's young wife and, most importantly, he keeps a deep, dark secret that Andrews has to figure out, for someone else...

Rollin'... Rollin'... Rollin' on a...
The only slight but non-distracting miscast is Anne Baxter's half-crazy "wild girl," Keefer's daughter, looking like a starlet in a cave-girl costume – of course she's attracted to our leading man, and vice versa (Linda Darnell, another future FALLEN ANGEL and also ZERO HOUR cast member, almost landed the role: which might've worked better given her savage beauty): But Renoir doesn't veer down that many predictable avenues, at least not for very long. For his core fans, this isn't a genuine art film while a conventional audience may yearn for more action – but with just enough brawn and brains to go around, this dusty little gem shines for a steady, even-keeled 90-minutes. The director, recently exiled from German-occupied France, made his very own American popcorn flick with an underlying pulse and atmosphere of something a bit deeper, despite eventual studio interference and re-shoots... that aren't noticeable.
Dana Andrews Swamp Water Dana Andrews
DANA ANDREWS IN SWAMP WATER REVIEWED BY JAMES M. TATE AT CULT FILM FREAK
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