Saturday, December 02, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Driftwood (1947) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Natalie Wood leads an excellent cast in the unusual drama DRIFTWOOD (1947), a Republic Pictures film just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

DRIFTWOOD was directed by Allan Dwan from an original screenplay by the husband-wife writing team of Richard Sale and Mary Loos, who was the niece of screenwriter Anita Loos. The movie was filmed in black and white by the great John Alton.

Wood plays Jenny, an orphan found sleeping along a desert road by Dr. Steve Webster (Dean Jagger). Jenny was raised in a ghost town by her great-grandfather (H.B. Warner), a preacher, and while she knows the Bible well, civilization is more than a bit of a mystery to her.

Steve takes Jenny into the home he shares with the town pharamacist (Walter Brennan), who helps Steve with medical experiments. Before long Jenny's unbridled honesty wreaks a bit of havoc with Steve's girlfriend Susan (Ruth Warrick) and her aunt Matilda (Charlotte Greenwood).

Steve is working on a cure for a spotted tick fever, and little does he know that the collie dog he found with Jenny holds a key to his work. It seems the dog, destined to play an important role in the creation of a serum, had been on his way to a scientific institute when the plane carrying him crashed in the desert.

The terrified Jenny had witnessed the crash but is unable to speak about it coherently; alone after her great-grandfather's death, she believed that the burning plane she saw hurtling through the night sky was the devil himself. Eventually the dog's identity is realized at a key moment.

The opening of the film is especially odd, as in short order Wood's little girl suffers the loss of her great-grandfather and then sees the crash, in an almost mystical sequence. Jenny's life turns for the better once she's found by the doctor.

Much of the film is an appealing portrait of small-town life, with James Bell as the caring sheriff, Francis Ford as his long-term jail "guest," and Hobart Cavanaugh terrific as the justice of the peace who also sells dry goods.

Margaret Hamilton is the soda shop clerk who teaches Jenny the mysteries of eating an ice cream soda, while Jerome Cowan is the smarmy mayor with a nightmare of a young son (Teddy Infuhr). Alan Napier is a scientist, Ray Teal a farmer, and look for Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer as a messenger. Carol Coombs, one of the Bailey children from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), plays one of the minister's (James Kirkwood) grandchildren.

The film is suffused with religious discussion and practice in a way which is surprising only because it's so rare now to see depictions on film of people living out their faith. In the most beautiful moment, the minister and his grandchildren fall to their knees and recite the Lord's Prayer as part of praying for a very sick child.

Although I wasn't sure what to make of the film at the outset, I ended up quite enjoying it, thanks to the cast and the polished filmmakers who keep the movie rolling along in an entertaining way.

Fun side note, the back-projected mountains during a car ride look like the Mount Whitney area outside Lone Pine, California.

The Blu-ray print was excellent. Let's hope Kino Lorber keeps releasing Republic obscurities such as this film and THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE (1958). It's been a treat to get to know these titles, all the more so in exellent prints.

Extras include trailers for additional Kino November releases, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) and I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944), which will both be reviewed here in the near future, and a commentary track by Jeremy Arnold. I haven't had a chance to listen to the commentary yet but I've enjoyed other tracks by Arnold, including on RIDE LONESOME (1959).

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger barrylane said...

A wonderful film. Loved it, and a pleasure to see Jagger and Warrick in leads.

10:41 AM  

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