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New on Disc: 'Wild River' and more …

11 Feb, 2013 By: Mike Clark

Wild River

Fox, Drama, $14.98 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet.
The least seen of Elia Kazan’s great films had never, until its inclusion on a Fox-Kazan boxed set in 2010, received a home-market release. Wild River was and is special due to its subject matter (not just the Depression-TVA but also its overriding theme about the cruel trade-offs that sometimes come with technological progress); a Montgomery Clift performance both intelligent and appealing that just keeps getting better with the years; a Lee Remick performance that is probably her career high (I believe she referred to this as the favorite of her films); and a Jo Van Fleet performance that, to my mind, should have had the supporting actress Oscar that went to Shirley Jones for Elmer Gantry. Incredibly, Van Fleet didn’t even get a nomination — though she had, of course, taken the same award five years earlier for absolutely nailing a small role as James Dean’s brothel-madam mother in Kazan’s East of Eden (which, like River, also had a most satisfying script by Paul Osborn).

Clift’s mission for the Tennessee Valley Authority is to get Van Fleet’s 80-year-old matriarch (the actress was 45 when she took the role) to cease being the only holdout to selling her family land so that the area can be flooded to make way for a TVA dam that will bring electricity to the region. Gradually helping her face reality is widowed-at-19 granddaughter Remick, whose minimal formal education can’t camouflage her innate emotional intelligence — a virtue that gets a workout when she has to convince this sometimes guarded Northern male that she would make a good wife to him.

Ellsworth Fredericks’ lovely Scope location photography gets the expected Blu-ray boost over the DVD version, and yes, that’s Bruce Dern as a gas station hooligan (one of many in the town) — his first screen appearance. Critic Richard Schickel is an obvious choice for the commentary here, having written extensively on Kazan in the past. This release definitely fills a crater, in that Wild River was one of the greatest U.S. releases never given its home format due.
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Murder Is My Beat

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Paul Langton, Barbara Payton, Robert Shayne.
Having previously immortalized bad-boy actor Tom Neal on screen in the skuzziest ‘B’-movie ever to have (deservedly) been added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry — 1945’s Detour — it was certainly not unpoetic that cult director Edgar G. Ulmer’s legacy can also claim the final movie to feature bad-girl Barbara Payton, whose volatile real-life romance with Neal didn’t even constitute the final-word tabloid chapters that eventually saw a) Neal imprisoned for the murder of his wife; and b) Payton descending into prostitution in a severely downward life trajectory.

Beat’s male lead is Paul Langton — later of TV’s “Peyton Place” — as a cop in pursuit of chanteuse Payton (though we never hear her sing) for a rather grisly homicide — until her demeanor (or more likely, platinum blond hair) so convinces him she might be innocent that the lawman jeopardizes his career by going on the run with her.

Payton, not that terrible an actress despite once having the title role in Bride of the Gorilla, really does exude “end of the line” here, though this quickie’s tawdry real-deal has to be actress Tracy Roberts as her trashier roommate. Roberts, who looks good in a saloon dive, never really made it in the movies, but she did become a respected acting teacher, though how many pointers she picked up from this one is a matter of conjecture.
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