Archive for the Swamp Movies Category

Bills’ Bizarre Bijou visits the COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 60s Movies, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Hillbillies, Just Plain Fun, Revenge!, Romance, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

by William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:


VideoBox Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

In the wild, wild world of exploitation films, bits and pieces of one movie can often make a ‘guest appearance’ in another film, spliced into the new film as padding for the running time, or as a way to save on the budget.  Most of the time, this created annoying sequences that have nothing to do with the movie you’re viewing at your local drive-in, distractions to the main plot.  Other times, the footage was inserted so well a casual viewer never noticed he’d been duped.  A lot of film buffs, such as me and you, my fans in the dark, take great pleasure in noticing such scenes and shouting out, “Hey, that was stolen from INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES!”  It’s a fine, old exploitation tradition, and we at the Bijou salute the filmmakers who managed to pull it off.

In 1960, Larry Buchanan, the infamous director of such sublimely awful fare as THE NAKED WITCH (1961), ZONTAR, THING FROM VENUS (1966), MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967), and THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981) started shooting a hicksloitation epic called SWAMP ROSE.  Starring Lacey Kelley (NUDE ON THE MOON – 1961, THE DEAD ONE – 1961), the unfinished film dealt with a moonshiner obsessed with a woman of easy virtue.  This footage was purchased by M.A. Ripps, who wanted to make it into a hit drive-in feature, as he so famously transformed the movie BAYOU into POOR WHITE TRASH (1957).  New director Eric Sayers used many Buchanan regulars: (Anabelle Weenik (going by Anne MacAdams) of CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY (1970), DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973); Max W. Anderson of HIGH YELLOW (1965), IN THE YEAR 2889 – (1967); and THE NAKED WITCH herself Libby Hall (as Libby Booth)).  Sayers shot a whole new storyline with these actors, including an unbilled woman to take Lacey Kelley’s role (and they don’t look much alike) using only bits and pieces of Larry Buchanan’s SWAMP ROSE.  There is a scene with Lacey Kelley walking down the street, her boom-boppa-boom stride mocked by a little girl, some scenes in a park, and a chase between a crazed hillbilly moonshiner attacking Lacey that make up most of the old footage.  Everything else is newly shot with actors from other movies.  Confused yet?  You won’t be once you watch COMMON LAW WIFE (1963), Sayers’ adults-only white-trash melodrama set in Texas.  It’s easily one of the greatest exploitation films from the period.  Other than a few film stock mis-matches and a character that switches actresses several times, you’d never know this was once two films edited into one trashy grindhouse gem.

But what about the story of COMMON LAW WIFE?

The film opens on a typical night at the Raineys’ rather tacky abode.  Old man Shug is playing darts in his bathrobe before drinking the biggest damn glass of wine in existence.  When his live-in mistress, Linda, tells him he’s not supposed to drink, he throws five darts at her head, embedding them into the wicker chair behind her.  He asks, “Do you want me to put one right between your eyes?”  Turns out, she’s lived with him for five years, and it’s taken a toll on her beauty.  He wants her to get out so his niece Jonelle (“Call me Baby Doll”) can come live with him.  “What’s she got?’ she shrieks.  Shug answers, “My attention right now, which you haven’t.”  Linda, shocked says, “Why she’s your own blood niece!  That’s incest!”  He replies, “Words don’t mean much to me.  I’ve already sent for Baby Doll.  Go pack your things.”

In New Orleans, we are introduced to Jonelle, a gorgeous stripper in a nightclub who resembles Traci Lords.  She packs her dresses and heads for rural Texas to stay with her uncle (Eww).  Turns out, Jonelle’s sister, Brenda, is married to the Sheriff, Jodi, who was having flings with both sisters during high school.  Jodi’s more than a little interested in rekindling his torrid affair with Jonelle, while good wife Brenda stays at home.

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple!

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple! (Ewwww)

Meanwhile, Linda consults a lawyer and discovers she’s lived long enough with Mr. Shug Rainey to be his common-law wife.  Mrs. Rainey buys herself a wedding ring and informs Shug that she is his legal wife, and if he wants his niece serving him in his house (Eww), he has to divorce her and pay alimony or give her the house.  Secretly, though I have no idea why, she loves the old dude.

Jonelle kick-starts her affair with Jodi (what a nice sisterly thing to do), but she throws a hissy fit after he says he doesn’t want to help her murder Shug for the old man’s money.  In spite, she gets up and starts stripping and dancing in front of what looks like several farmers and their wives who are either shocked or bemused.  She leaves with another old beau, Bull, who takes her out to the swamp to see his moonshine still.  Ah, romance in Texas!  When he gets fresh, she runs away through the swamp.  This whole part is Larry Buchanan’s, and it’s a bit rougher and grittier than the newer footage. 

She runs all the way back to her sister’s house (the actress changes here), but Brenda has figured out what’s happening between her husband and Jonelle.  She tosses her sister out of her house, but not before Jonelle steals the booze.  With nowhere to go, Jonelle hunts down Bull and they return to the swamp (wait, wait, didn’t he try to rape her the previous night?  Ah, romance in Texas!) 

The original Jonelle.

The original Jonelle.

Jodi goes after her (the heel!) and tracks her to Bull’s house, where a gunfight erupts over Jonelle.  He abducts her to his home, where the cold facts about their past relationship come to light.  Brenda catches them together and holds them at gunpoint!

Will Jonelle get one over on Linda?  Who will get old man Shug Rainey’s money when he dies? What about the cyanide-laced bottle of whiskey?  Will we ever get to see a full print of SWAMP ROSE?  Probably not, but this common-law version is a real hoot!

COMMON LAW WIFE is filled with great, hateful dialogue delivered in authentic, delightful accents.  It was Grace Nolan’s only writing credit, and I wish there’d been a lot more.  Some choice cuts of the nasty, mean-spirited dialog include:

“I was a stray cat lookin’ for a home, and I took it however I could.”

“Folks around here might think the circus has come to town.”  “They might be right!”

“From now on, this is my house.  And I don’t want any tramps hangin’ around it!”

“The only way I’ll see any of that old man’s body is over his stinkin’ dead body.”

“You couldn’t hit a bull with a bass fiddle.  Let alone that cap gun.”

“I met a couple of strangers in town today, and they claimed they didn’t know you.  You want their names so you can bat a thousand?”

“You’ve put on weight.  City food must be good.”

“A girl can learn a lot of lessons in the dark.”

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

The black and white photography is crisp and full of noir shadows.  The music is great jazz, heavy on the sax and trumpet, but the composer is unbilled.  Who knows where that great score came from?  The acting is campy and over-the-top, as it should be in a swamp melodrama like this one.  And the ending is brutal and shocking in a way few films of that era ever were.  COMMON LAW WIFE may be confusing sometimes, what with actresses switching and film stock not matching, but it’s loads of fun.  It’s like Douglas Sirk on tainted moonshine. 

I give COMMON LAW WIFE three and a half revolving actresses out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl


Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, Animals Attack, Bigfoot!, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:


Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Howco International Pictures was a small, independent film production company that was established in 1951 by Joy Newton Houck, Sr.  Based out of New Orleans, they produced little movies for the Southern Drive-In circuits, usually double features like Lash Larue Westerns or the John Agar wonder THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957).  After releasing everything from Roger Corman to Ed Wood to Ron Ormand movies, they really hit the big time with a giant hit, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972), which effectively combined documentary footage with the story of a Bigfoot-like creature called the skunk-ape.  The movie made millions and was a hit world-wide.  Hoping to play on the success of that film, Joy Houck, Jr. directed a script by his pal Jim McCullough, Jr. entitled THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) and created the creepiest Bigfoot movie ever made.

The film begins with Joe Canton and a fellow trapper tranquilly boating through the swamps around Black Lake, checking their traps.  Suddenly, a hairy arm emerges from the water and snatches the buddy from the boat, leaving Joe Canton (played by stalwart Western veteran Jack Elam—ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, 1968 and RIO LOBO, 1970) screaming for help.  Nobody believes the old drunk except for two cryptozoology students in Chicago who read about the experience in the papers.  The two men take off in their van for Louisiana on a hunt for the monster.  Pahoo (what the hell kind of name is that for a Yankee?) is a Vietnam Vet who jokes about everything, hates chicken with a passion usually reserved for despots, and is played by Dennis Fimple (KING KONG, 1976, the MATT HOUSTON TV series, 1982, and he was Grampa Hugo in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003).  Rives is more serious and good-looking and a draft dodger, and he is played by ex-model John David Carson, who appeared in such diverse movies as EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), PRETTY WOMAN (1990), and THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973).  Together, they encounter a hostile sheriff, who warns them to get out of town, locals who proclaim the creature a myth, a practical joke-playing waitress, and more yokel southern-fired, hee-haw stereotypes than you can shake a Confederate Flag at.

Jack Elam swears he wasn't drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Joe Canton (Jack Elam) swears he wasn’t drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Pahoo accidentally finds Joe Canton, but he loses him, but not before Rives encounters a young man named Orville Bridges, played by hawk-nosed screenwriter Jim McCullough, Jr. (the multi-talented guy also wrote and sang the songs for the movie).  Orville informs them he saw the creature when he was a toddler in a car crash that killed his parents.  Now he lives with his grandparents, and he’ll show them around if they don’t talk about Bigfoot.  They go home to a big country dinner.  Grandpa is played by Dub Taylor, from THE WILD BUNCH (1969), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and BACK TO THE FUTURE III (1990).  The old man is a walking advertisement for hick Southern trash, wheezing and making jokes nobody finds amusing.  During dinner, a mule brays loudly, and Pahoo shouts out, “Is that him?  Is that the creature?”  Grandma goes into a PTSD inspired sobbing fit, and Grandpa kicks the two Yankees (who, by the way, both possess southern twangs) to the barn for the evening.  While getting ready for bed, they hear the howling, haunting cry of Bigfoot closer than is comfortable.  They are terrified, but not so much that they don’t pick up two pretty southern belles in the local hamburger joint and invite them to their camp for the evening.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

The girls show up, and they all party a bit, playing over the recording of the Bigfoot cry.  Soon, they discover one of the girls has a father who is the sheriff – the same one who warned the boys out of town on the first day.  He hauls them into jail, where they stay the night with stinky Joe Canton, who is in the tank for getting drunk and chasing the creature with a shotgun.  Instead of heeding the sheriff’s warning, the two boys head for the woods to track the beast, which leads to a night of harrowing horror as the Bigfoot stalks them, separates them, and brutally attacks them.  These scenes are incredibly intense for a PG-rated film, never gory, but always scary and suspenseful.

The acting is good enough – nothing to shout over, but tolerable for this sort of yee-haw Southern horror tale.  Jack Elam chews the scenery with gusto, camping his drunken role up to the tenth degree.  Dennis Fimple and John David Carson make for likable heroes, and their interactions are natural and believable.  The extras and small roles are filled with people who obviously live in the town where this was filmed.  Their non-acting abilities actually lend an air of documentary-like verisimilitude to the proceedings, and the accents are to die for!

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE benefits most, however, from the wonderful cinematography of Dean Cundy.  Cundy started his career with the exploitation circuit, lensing such films as BLACK SHAMPOO (1976), the amazing THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979).  He moved on to larger pictures like THE THING (1982), WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988), JURASSIC PARK (1993), APOLLO 13 (1995), and THE HOLIDAY (2006).  THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is filmed in a gritty, sun-fried style, much like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and this lends a feeling of you-are-there realness to the action.  The scenery is beautiful, but never intrusive, and the Bigfoot creature is wisely kept mostly in the shadows, so the movie is about suspense and the threat of violence more than the actual acts of violence.  This may be what makes that final fifteen minutes so disturbing and exciting.  We do care about these two men by this point, and it appears as if we are watching documentary footage of their stalking and possible killing by his monster.  The suspension of disbelief is suspended way up in the sky somewhere, never interfering with our nerve-wracking enjoyment of the movie.

One of the CREATURE's victims floats to the surface.

One of the CREATURE’s victims floats to the surface.

The movie isn’t perfect.  There’s a bit too much of the folksy humor, especially around Dub Taylor’s character, who seems like he should be plucking a banjo and attacking Ned Beatty any second.  It slows down the momentum of suspense in the film and the characters strains credibility as much as he strains his overalls.  Plus, the epilogue of the movie seems tacked on in order to pacify an audience that wanted a happy ending.  After the sheer terror of the previous night, the sun is shining and everything is just hunky-dory.  In the real world, this would have ended very differently.

But why quibble?  On the whole, THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is a wonderfully spooky Bigfoot movie, possibly the best one out there.  The scares at the end are earned, and the photography is fantastic.

I give THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE three trespassing Yankees out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS (1957)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 50s Horror, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Mexican Horror, Monsters, Sea Creatures, Swamp Movies with tags , , , , , on July 19, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:


Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

We go south of the border this week for our swamp picture to complete my trilogy of swampy summer goodness. And oh boy, is this a weird one. THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS – 1957 (the final plurality of the monster(s) is almost covered up by the right edge of the screen, but everything I can find on this lost treasure is the singular SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER), is a Mexican import from kiddie matinee guru K. Gordon Murray, who bought these things on the cheap and dubbed them on the cheaper. Murray specialized in Mexican horror movies and oddities, unleashing brain-numbing madness onto the innocent minds of Eisenhower Saturday matinee movie-goers. He brought us such wonders as THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1958), SCANDAL IN FAIRYLAND (1957), and, of course, the unbelievable SANTA CLAUS (1959) where little children team up with Santa to kill Satan and his demons!  Oh the Christmas joy!  Well, Murray also dubbed and distributed THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER aka THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS aka THE SWAMP OF LOST SOULS.

The credits, scrolled over a picture of skulls and ghosts, proudly announce that the film stars Gaston Santos and his horse ‘Moonlight’. In real life, Gaston Santos was a renowned bullfighter, who often challenged his bulls on horseback. He was also a hack actor in several Mexican cheapies such as THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (1959) and THE LIVING COFFIN (1959). When you’re shown up by your own second billed horse, you know you just aren’t made for the movies.

The story starts with a funeral, in which a coffin is rowed across a lake (or maybe the swamp?) to a shore riddled with weeping women in black (actually a very striking image). The widow, Maria, demands a glimpse of her dead husband, and the coffin lid is raised, even though the men rowing the boat inform her he was “killed by the beast.”  Then, one of them turns around and says he may have died from some disease. Still, the widow accompanies the men across the lake, riding atop the coffin, to bury her late hubby. Her son arrives, a dashing young man on horseback, who also demands to see the corpse. When the casket is opened, the body has disappeared. Cue many furious signs of the crosses and ‘Santa Marias!’

That evening, a very sad, grade-Z CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON knock-off stalks the  grounds of Maria’s mansion. This monster is hilarious, with an oversized fish head, nearly invisible scuba gear on its back, and googly eyes. This ‘lost monster’ should’ve stayed lost; it’s really that pathetic.

Move over all you other sea monsters! The Lost Monster is in town!

The pallbearers (rowboat bearers?) are plotting something, even as Maria’s niece, the manly Julieta, tries to comfort her with their faithful servant Carmela. The dashing nephew makes a dash for the next ranch, where Gaston Santos, rancher and private detective (!) is amusing everyone with Moonlight, his amazing dancing horse. Yes, the horse does actually dance, and it’s cute, but only until the nephew drops dead at his feet, muttering something about cholera and a monster that attacked him. Well, Gaston just has to see what this is all about, so he rides along with his comedy-relief side-kick Squirrel Eyes, who’s like a Mexican Pinky Lee, lisping and singing like Al Jolson. Squirrel Eyes is attacked by the monster after he falls into the swamp because he stood up in a canoe. The whole time we are underwater with the creature, we can still hear the birds in the trees above Squirrel Eyes, who escapes the creature, who, for an aquatic beast, isn’t very fast in the water. Must be all that bulky scuba equipment strapped to its back or the baggy orange rubber costume. Squirrel Eyes must be truly terrified, because he keeps calling the monster a ‘Martian.’  Someone takes a pot shot at Squirrel Eyes but hits Gaston, who takes off after the villain in the slowest chase scene ever.

The manly Julieta is sweet on Gaston Santos!

Gaston goes to the doctor and gets bandaged up, and we see he’s certainly a strapping young man!  He’s very muscular and handsome for the time. Anyway, he goes on to Maria’s mansion, where he starts investigating the mystery of the disappearing corpse and the gruesome gill man. Little does he know, the doctor who bandaged him has a wireless Morse Code set in his desk and he alerts someone…to something.

Several gauchos have fun throwing stuff at a wall, but their boss tells them no more games. Gaston gets into a bar brawl in town, but after he whips everyone’s butts, the boss of the ranch at the mansion arrives to take him to the widow’s house. He impresses Julieta with his suave dancing horse skills, and the girl smiles at him, exhibiting no sexual chemistry whatsoever. The actress who plays Julieta is a strange-looking woman with the face of Michael Jackson in his whitest years and a Loretta Young wig. It turns out her uncle had an insurance policy that benefits his brother, not the widow. And the bank may take her house soon!

Squirrel Eyes goes fishing and catches the body of the gravedigger. “Aye Chihuahua!”   Carmela finds out the widow Maria has second sight, and she sees that someone is going to try and kill her. She also has another secret—she’s gone blind, and she’s been fooling the villagers for months. Now, she can’t see anything, but she feels better with a gun in her hand. I’m pretty sure everyone else in the house isn’t quite so comfortable having a blind old lady with a revolver bumping into walls and shooting whenever she hears someone getting close!

The creature stalks up on the two lovebird wannabes and the monster fires a spear gun at them!  Monsters have lousy aim, however, as it misses them completely and nearly wings Squirrel Eyes (oh please let him die, please!). There’s a bit of a chase, and Gaston strips down to a red Speedo, dives into the water, and wrestles with the rubbery critter for several minutes while his obviously rubber knife wobbles and wiggles in the water. A fiesta takes place nearby…complete with a whole slew of dancing horses and firecrackers. The monster gets away, but it uses the Morse Code machine to send a message. To whom?  Some fan mail from some flounders?

Obviously, this monster is no monster!  But who is it?  Will Maria be ruined by the insurance scheme?  Will Gaston solve the mystery of the disappearing body?  Will we ever discover why he’s wearing red Speedo swim trunks under his white cowboy outfit?  Will Moonlight ever get a dancing partner?  After a weird comedic Keystone Kops-style fight with clumsily staged slapstick and another fight between the creature and Gaston (who beats the crap out of the poor beastie with a two by four), we discover all the answers.

Gaston beats the crap out of the “Monster.”

And by the way, there’s only one monster, so why is this THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS?  And the single monster was never even lost!  This is what happens when the smartest character in the movie is the horse.

THE SWAMP OF LOST MONSTERS is a really bad movie, but somehow, the cinematography is quite good in many scenes, evoking shadowy sets and eerie swamp sets. Someone behind the camera had some talent – cinematographer Raul Martinez Solares, who also shot NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969), THE RIVER AND DEATH (1955), and numerous Mexican Lucha films starring Santo. It’s too bad it didn’t trickle down to the screenwriter, the actors, the dubbing specialists, or the director. Still, this is the kind of bad movie that’s a lot of fun, despite its lousiness. Where else are you going to get cowboys, Mexican Catholic funerals, a zipper-backed monster, fiestas, scary heroines that resemble drag queens, dancing horses, handsome, hunky heroes in Speedos, hilarious Mexican stereotypes, insurance scams, an ending right out of Scooby Doo, and more people conversing in Morse Code than two dozen boy scout troops?  With some buddies and a few dozen margaritas, this becomes a real treat for fright fans.

I give THE SWAMP OF LOST MONSTERS two and a half ‘Aye Chihuahuas!’ out of four.


© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets SWAMP GIRL (1971)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Fugitives, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:


Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

The mercury went all the way up to 104 degrees today, and the humidity rose right along with it.  Therefore, we’re continuing with our swampy movies marathon, with a look at a drive-in classic from 1971, SWAMP GIRL.

In a hauntingly beautiful opening shot, a young blond girl rows a small boat through a brightly colored, sunset-laden swamp to the accompaniment of sad guitars.  When night falls, a couple of poachers show up and discover the boat she left behind along with a man nearly dead from cottonmouth bites.  They catch a glimpse of the girl as she creeps away.

Ferlin Husky, the great country western singer and star of HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967) is the Swamp Ranger, and he’s introduced singing a lovely song about the girl on his porch.  His rich baritone rings out,

“Or can it be, you really live, that the stories told are true,

Out in that dark and mysterious swamp, there’s an angel such as you?

Swamp Girl, Swamp Girl, run away,

But there will come a day when your heart will say that it’s time to go,

When your heart will tell you so.”

The ranger interviews the men who discovered the body, and these guys are certainly real life locals.  This isn’t acting; it’s tragic verisimilitude with scary rural accents.  After they claim they’ve seen the elusive swamp girl (who is she, Bigfoot?).  The ranger takes out his airboat to find the mysterious girl.  Is it me, or does everyone in every swamp movie have an airboat?

That Ferlin Husky sure sings up a storm in SWAMP GIRL!

Cue five minutes of well-shot nature footage, lots of scenery and dangerous-looking reptiles.

Eventually, Ferlin Husky spots Swamp Girl, and he follows her.  Luckily, she’s wearing a bright pink and white dress and her hair is so shiny, you just have to wonder where she buys her hair care products out there in the boonies.  Our stalker gets his foot caught in a bear trap, and the girl has to help him.  “If I could find all these traps,” she says, “I’d just throw ‘em all in the water.”  He’s slightly injured, so she takes him to her cabin where she makes him dinner and introduces him to her “Pa,” an African-American man who takes care of her.  The warden tells her that the swamp, that nature itself, is disappearing and one day she would have to go out into the real world.  The thought terrifies her.  He swears to return the next day to hear if she wants to live in the civilized world.

Swamp Girl, or Janeen, is played by the lovely Simone Griffeth when she was about twenty years old.  I adore Simone Griffeth, and not just because we share a birthday, but she’s a pretty good actress in some favorite movies of mine.  She went on to star in DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), HOT TARGET (1985), and television shows from HART TO HART to STARSKY AND HUTCH to a recurring role on TJ HOOKER.  In SWAMP GIRL, she’s playing a fragile innocent, and she plays it very well.

Pa (played nicely by Lonnie Bower) tells her he isn’t her actual “Pa,” that he needs to tell her a story and his name is actually Nat.  Begin exposition.

Turns out, he was lost in the swamp, and he was rescued by a doctor who performed illegal abortions in the middle of the wilderness.  Janeen’s Ma was too far along, so he let her stay until she had the baby.  See, old Doc would send the boy children back with their Mammas, and the girl babies were sold into white slavery to Arab sheiks!  WHAT?!!  Okay, pass the popcorn.  Turns out, Janeen was special to Doc and Nat.  She was also a friend to the animals and all nature (MESSAGE!  MESSAGE!).  Doc sent Nat to visit Lake Turner, who runs a snake farm and procures young girls.  It’s a living.  While Nat’s gone, Doc tries to sell Janeen, but he gets drunk and greedy and asks for double the usual amount.  The white slavers kill Doc and shove the girl into a croaker sack.  Nat slaughters the two men with a hatchet and the girl gets dropped and bitten by a rattlesnake! Luckily, Nat’s there and he sucked out the poison.  After that, he raised her as his own.  Now, she must decide whether to remain in the Okefenokee Swamp, living illegally with her Pa, or should she go with the ranger and find her way in the world?

Simone Griffeth in SWAMP GIRL.

Two bank robbers on the lam, a man and a woman,  abandon their car and attempt to trek to the next state through the swamp.  They discover Pa and Janeen’s cabin, and they make themselves at home after blasting Pa with both barrels in a shockingly violent scene.  They force Janeen to guide them out of the swamp to Florida, so she leads them, forgetting to meet poor love-struck Ferlin Husky.  Swamp Girl has her own plans for this couple, and she knows all the pitfalls and deadly animals in the area.

Meanwhile, one of the robber’s parents just happen to show up, looking for their daughter!  The swamp rats, who hate the sheriff and his pinko liberal environmentalist ways of taking care of the wildlife refuge, accompany the robber’s father into the Okefenokee to search for the missing thieves.  Don’t ask how, but this leads to a guy being swung over a pit of cotton mouths until he tells them where the old cabin in the swamp is located.

Will Janeen lead the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes out of the swamp into safety?  Will the sheriff get to her in time?  Will she head for civilization or remain in the wilderness? Before we know the answers, there will be quicksand, gory deaths, an anti-gun speech (Ya ain’t so tough without yer shotgun, are ya?”), a catfight in the mud (!), two alligator attacks, a cotton mouth trap, and more singing by Ferlin Husky.  And wait till you get a load of the insane twist ending!

Ferlin Husky as the “Swamp Ranger.”

The music, which is so integral to the mood of the movie, is by Gene Kauer, who composed the scores for scores of movies, including THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975), THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961), MONSTER (1980), and all three FACES OF DEATH movies (1978, 1981 and 1985).

SWAMP GIRL was directed by Donald A. Davis, who also made FOR SINGLE SINGERS ONLY (1968), THE MUTHERS (1968), MARSHA: THE EROTIC HOUSEWIFE (1970), and the delightfully named DIAL-A-DEGENERATE (1972).  Most of his films were “nudie cuties” or adults-only sex comedies, so SWAMP GIRL is fairly unusual in that it’s rated PG, despite the hatchet murders, abortions, child prostitution, murders, alligator killings, snake bitten children, etc.  It was obviously made for the Southern Drive-In circuit, and it works well for what it is.  There’s so much going on that there’s never a dull moment, and the swamp photography is quite beautiful and must’ve looked great on those giant outdoor screens.  Those authentic accents also add to the fun, creating a nice, if fairly mild hicksploitation hit.  In a few more years, Claudia Jennings would star in the similar, and much more exploitive (and therefore much more popular) GATOR BAIT (1974).

SWAMP GIRL is a fun little movie with no pretensions, a good little performance from the super sexy Simone Griffeth, pretty scenery, and more plot than you could usually fit into five flicks.  Something Weird DVD has it on a terrific double bill with SWAMP COUNTRY (1966), starring Lyle Waggoner.

I give SWAMP GIRL two and a half Arab white slavers out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Available as part of a DVD double-feature with SWAMP COUNTRY from Something Weird Video.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes a Swim in SWAMP WATER (1941)

Posted in 1940s Films, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Fugitives, Killers, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:


Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-till-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

It’s ninety-five degrees outside as I write this, and it’s so humid you could cut the air with a knife.  Therefore, the weather is dictating my summer choice of a trilogy of swamp movie reviews over the next month.  What better time to remember the great swamp pictures than when they used to be shown at the local drive-ins, complete with terrier-sized mosquitoes (unless you bought one of those coiled smoke thingies)?

Jean Renoir was the son of famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, and he was also considered France’s greatest living director in the 1930s.  He directed, and most often wrote, one masterpiece after another, films that would still be studied and adored in the next century, films like BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1932), THE LOWER DEPTHS (1936), LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937), and LA BETE HUMAINE (1938).  In 1939, he made THE RULES OF THE GAME, a comedy of manners and a harsh indictment against the bourgeois and pretty much any other class system.  The film infuriated the French, who truly take their cinema to heart, and it also disturbed the Nazis, who occupied the country at the time, with its left-wing politics.  The film was a flop, and Renoir decided if he was going to keep making movies, he would immigrate to America, thus escaping the Nazis’ condemnation, while still retaining his director’s chair, only this time in Hollywood.  He arrived in New York City with his wife and the author of “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  Within weeks, he was in Hollywood, signed to Twentieth Century Fox by Francophile Darryl F. Zanuck.  What would be his first film in the United States?  A great war film?  An ant-Nazi drama?  A brilliant, elegant comedy?  No, it was a swamp picture: SWAMP WATER (1941) written by Dudley Nichols, who had just had several hits like BRINGING UP BABY (1938) and STAGECOACH (1939), and based on the Saturday Evening Post pot-boiler by Vereen Bell.

In the Okefenokee Swamp, 700 miles of marsh and cypress, Dana Andrews (LAURA – 1944 and CURSE OF THE DEMON – 1957) is Ben, a young man who loses his dog, Trouble (uh-oh, foreshadowing?) while searching for a couple of missing trappers on the edge of the swamp.  Not finding him, he returns home to his father Thursday (Walter Huston of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE – 1948 and THE FURIES – 1950) and his stepmother Hannah, played by Mary Howard (LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY – 1938 and ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS – 1940).  Trouble hasn’t returned home, but when Ben says he’s going into the swamp to find Trouble, his Pa goes plumb crazy, shouting and telling him if he goes into the swamp he shouldn’t ever come home again.  He would be disinherited (from what, I wonder, the old shack they live in?)  On his way, he runs into Mabel, his girlfriend, a high-falutin’ woman who yearns for a better life, played by Virginia Gilmore of THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942).  He gets supplies at the general store, where we meet the rest of the town . . . Marty, who owns the store (the great Russell Simpson of THE GRAPES OF WRATH – 1940 and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS-1954), two nasty characters, the Dorson Brothers, on their way to drown a bag of kittens (!) played by Ward Bond (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – 1946 and THE SEARCHERS – 1956) and Guinn Williams (a heavy in many Westerns, including THE ALAMO – 1960) and a beautiful, wild young woman, the ward (or slave) of the shopkeeper.  Played with a great naiveté by Anne Baxter (ALL ABOUT EVE -1950 and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS– 1956), Julie is a wildcat, a girl abandoned by her father: a convicted murderer who fled into the swamp and is presumed dead.   It’s a rough bunch.

The haunting opening shot from SWAMP WATER (1941)>

Our hero goes on his search for his missing dog into the heart of the swamp, and Renoir actually filmed this on location, unheard of in a film of this time.  The cypress trees, the algae, the water, the sweat, the alligators, and the beautiful play of light on everything is simply gorgeous and stifling.  I can almost feel the fecund air until Ben comes across, who else, Julie’s father, the escaped killer Tom Keefer, played by three time Oscar winner Walter Brennan (STAGECOACH – 1939 and THE WESTERNER – 1941.)  Trouble, it seems, has taken a shine to old Tom, who is hiding out in the deep swamp from the law, but the old man can’t let Ben go back to civilization and reveal where he is.  He ties the boy to a tree and prepares to kill him, but he’s bitten in the face by a cottonmouth, and he falls unconscious.  Ben decides to bury the man, the only proper thing to do, when the old escapee revives.  “If I’da let them things kill me,” he says.  “I’da been dead a long time ago.”  For the young man’s kindness, Tom shows Ben the way out of the swamp.

Fugitive Walter Brennan hiding in the SWAMP WATER.

Meanwhile, local horndog Jesse Wick, played by John Carradine (hundreds of movies) is hitting on Hannah while her husband’s looking for Ben.  His father beats the hide off of him, so Ben takes up in a shack near the general store, where he starts to become closer to the wildcat Julie and makes a living by trapping furs in the Okefenokee.  This, of course, infuriates Mabel, who decides to go to a dance with a Dorson Brother.  Ben accompanies Julie, who cleans up really well!  Ben informs her that her father’s alive, so she starts keeping house for him.

Jesse tries to rape Hannah, but is almost caught by Thursday, who blames his wife.  She can’t say who it is, because she knows Thursday will kill him and she doesn’t want the guilt.  Thursday goes on a quest to find out who his wife is protecting.

It doesn’t take long before the wicked Dorson Brothers and the jealous Mabel get Ben in a headlock and try to drown him, until he tells them Tom is hiding out in the Okefenokee.  Turns out, they know more about the murder than anyone thought, and they go into the swamp to kill Tom Keefer and shut him up.  They’re followed by the sheriff and a posse as well as Ben and Jesse.  The manhunt through the darkened swamp is creepy and quite terrifying.  Will Ben get to Tom in time to warn him?  Will Tom believe the young man or blame him for the men tracking him through quicksand and gator nests?

I won’t give away the ending, but after ninety minutes of dark drama and suspense, it comes out of left field to please wartime audiences.  Zanuck didn’t think anyone would want to see a realistic ending, so he tacked on a sunny bit that seems awfully unrealistic, but it does still work.  Zanuck must have known what he was doing.  Despite his tampering and Jean Renoir’s dissatisfaction with his whole Hollywood experience, SWAMP WATER was one of the five top grossing movies of the year.  Renoir would return to some of the same themes in THE SOUTHERNER (1945 ) and get nominated for an Oscar.

Even with all the cornpone dialog, SWAMP WATER is filled with terrific performances, especially the luminescent Walter Brennan, who just owns every scene he’s in and Anne Baxter, who plays the feral Julie in a way that makes you want to protect her yourself.  Dana Andrews is a bit hopeless at the beginning as an innocent young man, but he evolves into a full grown adult whose heart is too big for the small town he lives in.  The transformation is subtle, but quite wonderful.  John Carradine turns in a performance full of terror and shame, a man who can’t help what he is and is too frightened of life to change.

Dana Andrews comes across an angry Walter Brennan in SWAMP WATER.

The photography is brilliant black and white, with long depths and wavering firelight or dappled sunlight on everything.  Cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (HOUSE OF WAX-1953 and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES-1939) uses Renoir’s trademark long takes and constantly moving camera.  As beautiful as it is, Marley was a replacement for original photographer Lucien Ballard (THE WILD BUNCH and TRUE GRIT – both 1969), who was fired.  It looks like an art film but it has the Tobacco Road plot of a Southern exploitation hit, so SWAMP WATER is an odd flick, but extremely moving and beautiful piece of Faulkneresque Southern gothic.

Twilight Time has released a limited edition Blu-Ray of this classic swamp picture, and it’s a lulu.  You can see every bead of sweat on every characters mug, every bug flying near the fires in the swamp, every grain of wood on the sad-looking shacks.  It’s a magnificent restoration, and you can even isolate the musical score by David Buttolph (KISS OF DEATH -1947 and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS – 1953), which samples the haunting Red River Valley.  They only made 3,000, so if you want one, you need to hurry.

I give SWAMP WATER three and a half kittens in a bag out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl