“Swamp Water” (1941) was what did it for Dana Andrews. After a few years in Hollywood bouncing between bit parts, an apprenticeship at the Pasadena Playhouse, and working as a gas station attendant, it took a trip to the Okefenokee to really launch his film career as a leading man.
This is part of the Dana Andrews Blogathon over at Classic Move Man, with links to other blogs posted this Saturday, July 28th.
Dana Andrews knew himself that ''Swamp Water" would be important to his career. In June 1941 he took “a fast cross country airliner,” to Waycross, Georgia to film on location according to the Waycross Journal-Herald of June 25, 1941. “‘It’s my big chance,’ laughed young Andrews a bit groggy after his first plane trip but fascinated by it all to such a degree he hadn’t been able to sleep.”
Thirty-three years later, in his mid-60s, in another phase of his career when performing dinner theatre in “Best of Friends” at the Alhambra Theatre, Jacksonville, Florida, Andrews took his wife on a side trip to the Okefenokee. He wanted to show her where he had filmed some scenes for “Swamp Water”. He was recognized in a Waycross diner. (Waycross Journal-Herald, February 13, 1974).
Director Jean Renoir, in his first American film, and his assistant Irving Pinchel arrived as well, with Mr. Pinchel taking over the location shooting when Renoir went back to Hollywood, where of course most of the film was shot on sets.
Did I mention there would be spoilers? No? Sorry.
It’s an interesting film both for Renoir’s perspective on American gothic, complete with the imagery of a skull atop a cross as a warning sign, and for it being Dana Andrews’ first leading role.
He doesn’t hunker down too much in a southern accent, though as a native southerner he could -- but that would make him stand out from everyone else in the community who do not speak with southern accents. Most especially the Massachusetts-bred Walter Brennan in his alligator skin clothing and his New England long vowels.
Some of the scenes look straight out of a John Ford copybook -- the fiddle playing of “Red River Valley” at the square dance, and of course, the use of so many Ford regulars like Ward Bond, John Carradine and Russell Simpson.
He and Walter Huston have a father-son reunion when Mr. Huston saves him.
“Make Haste to Live” - 1954, here), I was amazed that the studio allowed Renoir’s fixed camera gaze on Williams screaming in terror as his disembodied head sinks into the mud. It’s something out of monster movie -- which would have been less terrifying because we do not believe in monsters -- than in a movie that has so far kept rigidly to unblinking reality.