Screened January 3 2008 on DVD in Weehawken NJ
I generally groan at the creakily subjective categorizing of film directors employed by Andrew Sarris in his American Cinema, but in the case of Elia Kazan I tend to agree with his label of “less than meets the eye.” The often hysterical displays of moral angst and sexual neurosis among his Method ensemble in A Streetcar Named Desire [TSPDT #356], East of Eden [TSPDT #583] and On the Waterfront [TSPDT #104] (where the most histrionic performer is Leonard Bernstein’s score) may have broken taboos in the Eisenhower era, but today they come off as Oscar bait bordering on camp, offering more heat than light. In contrast to these films, Wild River is a revelation, both even-handed and even-headed, foregoing steroidal drama for the sake of taking in the full registers and rhythms of a way of life on the way of being literally drowned out of existence.
Kazan’s empathy for his subject matter is embodied in Montgomery Clift’s Tennesse Valley Authority agent charged with evacuating a prideful matriarch (Jo Van Fleet, magnificent) from her soon-to be submerged island on a newly-dammed stretch of the Mississippi. Clift occasionally succumbs to Method ham with a halting line delivery or twitchy mannerism, but mostly his eyes convey his character’s liberal earnestness in trying to win through patient, reasoned conversation. Similarly, Kazan’s town hall pacing gives time for practically every contending point of view to have its say, and his autumnal location camerawork achieves an authenticity of place and way of life that’s hardly to be found elsewhere in his oeuvre.
For once, Kazan’s theater-bound allegiance to script and performance give way to moments of cinematic lyricism worthy of Ford, particularly in scenes between Clift and Lee Remick’s wistful young widow, whose exchanges are performed with such exquisite timing that it’s breathtaking. For once, the pscyhological and romantic strife of Kazan’s characters are largely internalized with nuanced body language, and expressed as equally by the film’s masterful light. Clift and Remick’s casual introduction elides into a wordless riverside passage where the distant sounds of hymns being sung over the current’s gurgle, conveying a romanticism so subtly natural that it stealthily sets up a knockout blow in Remick’s dilapidated house, where Remick’s heartbreak and sexuality quietly arise among increasingly looming hues of sunset and shadow.
The film was an immediate flop upon release, its concern with the Depression-era South seeming hopelessly unfashionable, its quiet treatment of sex insufficient to arouse audiences. In retrospect, its measured concern with social progress in the South, especially in its attentiveness to racial politics, gives it a rare prescience towards the civil rights struggle that would dominate the decade to follow. But above all, its sensitivity and beauty tower over much of Kazan’s other work, and American cinema.
Want to go deeper?
I’d conceived this film years before as a homage to the spirit of FDR; my hero was to be a resolute New Dealer engaged in the difficult task of convincing “reactionary” country people that it was necessary, in the name of the public good, for them to move off their land and allow themselves to be relocated. Now I found my sympathies were with the obdurate old lady who lived on the island that was to be inundated and who refused to be patriotic, or whatever it took to allow herself to be moved. I was all for her. Something more than the shreds of my liberal ideology was at work now, something truer perhaps, and certainly stronger. While my man from Washington has the ‘social’ right on his side, the picture I made was in sympathy with the old woman obstructing progress.
Perhaps I was beginning to feel humanly, not think ideologically. The people in my life for whom I’d felt the deepest devotions were three old-fashioned women: my grandmother, my mother and my schoolteacher … I no longer had a taste for liberal intellectuals. I always knew what they were going to say about any subject. I simply didn’t like the reformers I’d been with since 1933, whether they were Communists or progressives or whoever else was out to change the world. I’d only believed I should like them. I’d followed the crowd, which during those years was going that way.
The film that resulted from all this is one of my favorites, possibly because of its social ambivalence. Jean Renoir’s famous phrase, “Everyone has his reasons” was true here. Both sides were “right.” Wild River is also a favorite of certain French film critics [….] Skouras (the studio director) had an opposite view and treated the film deplorably, jerking it out of theatres before it had any chance to take hold and booking it thinly across the country. It was not exhibited in Europe until I staged a stormy scene in [the studio director’s] office and shamed him. I hope the negative is safe in one of Fox’s vaults, although I’ve heard a rumor that it was destroyed to make space for more successful films. This would not surprise me. Money makes the rules of the market, and by this rule, the film was a disaster.”
– Elia Kazan, A Life. Page 596
DESPITE a tempestuous title, “Wild River,” which came to both the Victoria and Sixty-eighth Street Playhouse yesterday, emerges as an interesting but strangely disturbing drama rather than a smashing study of a historic aspect of the changing American scene.
In focusing his color cameras on the South and the Southerners affected by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the early Nineteen Thirties, producer-director Elia Kazan, oddly, enough, distracts a viewer with a romance that shares importance with the social and economic upheaval that unquestionably is closest to the heart of this movie matter. In following two courses simultaneously, the potential force of “Wild River” has been diminished.
Mr. Kazan deserves real credit for not being partisan about the socio-economic aspects of his story. The similar accent on its romance dilutes its drama.
– A.H. Weiler, New York Times, May 27, 1960
Original Theatrical Trailer:
This 1960 drama is probably Elia Kazan’s finest and deepest film, a meditation on how the past both inhibits and enriches the present. Lee Remick costars as Van Fleet’s widowed daughter, giving one of the most affecting performances of her underrated career. The tone shifts from hysteria to reverie in the blinking of an eye, but Kazan handles it all with a sure touch.
– Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader
Maybe it’s the location shooting, maybe it’s the performances, but Kazan’s lyrical, liberal account of a Tennessee Valley Authority agent (Clift) struggling to persuade an obstinate old woman (Fleet) to abandon her home before it is flooded by a new project, is one of his least theatrical and most affecting films. Partly that’s because the battle lines – between city and country, old and new, expediency and commitment – are effectively blurred, making the conflict more dramatically complex than one might expect; but Kazan’s evident nostalgia for the ’30s (New Deal) setting also lends the film greater depth and scope than is usually to be found in his work.
– Time Out
Although the picture was directed by Elia Kazan, then a major American filmmaker, was produced by a major American studio (20th Century Fox) and starred Montgomery Clift and a particularly luminous Lee Remick, Fox at some point lost faith in the film, gave it a modest release in 1960 and, despite respectable reviews, let it die. Kazan was so disappointed by the way it was handled that he tried to buy the negative back from the studio and arrange an independent release, but he couldn’t afford the price.
Who cared, a quarter-century after the fact, about the creation of the vast system of dams that tamed the Tennessee River, which almost annually flooded, carrying away millions of dollars worth of land, buildings, livestock – not to mention people? Who cared, any more, that the TVA brought electricity to a seven-state region that had been nearly devoid of modern life’s most essential power source? That was stale news.
Forty-five years have passed since “Wild River’s” failed initial release. It could be argued that the TVA is even staler news now than it was. But I don’t think so. For more than 30 years, the argument against “big” government has been drummed into our ears by the right. It is inefficient. It crushes the spirit of individualism. Yadda, yadda yadda. But there are some things only a strong, centralized government can accomplish. A rational health insurance system instantly springs to mind. The stern enforcement of environmental (and workplace) protections is another. Yadda, yadda, yadda – again.
At the time, its supporters always called the TVA a “yardstick” by which we might measure the effect of government on our better, as opposed to our meanest – or Bushian – selves. In that, it succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams.
“Wild River” exceeded Kazan’s highest hopes too – as a film that, fully aware of the pain implicit in the process of change, continues to summon us to our lost social consciousness. And conscience.
– Richard Schickel, The Los Angeles Times, November 6 2005
[Kazan] wanted to achieve what he called a “laconic, pictorial” style in the film, to “boil the words out of everything.” He thought: “Art goes from peak to peak. Nature has valleys. Art should have none. Here in this picture you have a brilliant opportunity to do everything very, very pictorially and very much without words… Just have a succession of meaningful events… Go from peak to peak.”
He did not quite achieve that. There are plenty of words in Wild River. But they are rarely abstract words. And they are rarely pitched at the high melodramatic level of, say, East of Eden or A Face in the Crowd. These people are soft-spoken in their contrasting stubbornness; their rages are more felt than openly expressed. And I think more effectively than he did in East of Eden, Kazan achieved the pastoral quality that [Michel] Ciment imputed to that picture. Indeed, I think Wild River comes close to being a great film – in its – yes, laconic – humanization of a large conflict, in its evocation of a lost American landscape and spirit, in the simple beauty of its imagery (its largely unsung cinematographer was Ellsworth Fredericks), in the force of its acting, in its almost Chekhovian realization of little lives under pressures they do not entirely comprehend.
– Richard Schickel, Elia Kazan: A Biography. Published by HarperCollins, 2005. Page 372
For Elia Kazan, the making of Wild River was the fulfilment of a 25-year long dream. Ever since he visited the Tennessee Valley in the early 1930s, he had longed to make a film depicting what he saw: landowners being driven from the area to make way for a massive dam construction project. The film Kazan ultimately made in 1960, adapted from two novels (William Bradford Huie’s Mud on the Stars and Borden Deal Dunbar’s Cove) is one of his greatest achievements, a potent mix of melodrama and socio-economic study that is both informative and emotionally engaging. It is also a thought-provoking work, since it questions the wisdom and morality of government schemes that irreversibly transform the landscape for socio-economic reasons. The film also touches on racial issues, specifically the appalling way in which black workers were discriminated against in the southern states in the 1930s.
Kazan was a director who is renowned for the authenticity and realism he brought to his films – most notably in his 1954 masterpiece On the Waterfront, which starred one of his Actors Studio protégés, Marlon Brando. Wild River is just as noteworthy for its realism, but it has also an alluring lyrical quality which the location (Lake Chickamauga and the Hiwassee River), beautifully shot in crisp autumnal hues, naturally provides. Kazan’s use of non-professional actors for extras strengthens the film’s naturalism and lends an almost documentary-style feel in places, setting it apart from most American films of this period.
What makes Wild River particularly memorable are the outstanding contributions from its lead actors. The chemistry between Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick is remarkable in that it conveys undercurrents of desire and emotional turbulence without explicit love scenes and overly dramatic confrontations. At this time, Clift had begun his tragic downward slide that would soon result in a terrible facial disfigurement and an early death from combined drug and alcohol abuse. In the last week of the shoot, he broke his promise to Kazan to stay away from hard liquor and very nearly put the kybosh on the film.
– James Travers, Films de France
Scene from film (thanks to Matt Parker):
This powerful historical drama about the clash between public necessity and private autonomy remains one of Elia Kazan’s finest films. The story opens with a real-life newscast depicting the devastation wrought on poor Tennessee farmers after the Mississippi River has once again flooded the area, thus establishing Clift’s TVA-sponsored presence as a necessary evil — yet it’s impossible not to side at least partially with crotchety Ella Garth (Van Fleet), whose entire identity is wrapped up in the island her family has owned for years. While it’s clear that Garth will somehow — eventually — be “convinced” to move, the story of how this happens remains compelling until the end.
Wild River is most memorable, however, for its remarkable performances — primarily by 46-year-old Van Fleet (her make-up artist deserves ample praise as well) and 25-year-old Lee Remick, who has never looked more stunning or been more affecting. This was purportedly Remick’s personal favorite of all the films she made, and it’s easy to see why: she invests her character with a lifetime of loss and hope, turning what is clearly a convenient “plot device” romance into a believable dimension of the story. Other supporting actors — and Clift himself — are fine as well, but it’s Van Fleet and Remick who really make this powerful film must-see viewing.
In an apparent attempt to make the film more appealing to younger audiences, Kazan has created a romance between Glover and Mrs. Garth’s widowed daughter Carol. What might otherwise have been nothing more than adventitious Hollywood schlock is redeemed by Lee Remick’s compelling performance as Carol. If Chuck represents liberal progress and Ella conservative continuity, Carol is caught between these two worldviews. Although she finally sides with Chuck, we sense what has been lost in the process. It is altogether fitting that Ella dies shortly after she is removed from her land.
The mindless worship of technology that sometimes passes for conservatism in the modern era would object to the TVA only because it is a government program. As an artist, Kazan is able to appreciate a more fundamental conservative sensibility—one that recognizes the cost of progress. At the same time, he does not romanticize the rural folk. The petty cruelty and racism of some of these people are presented as lamentable facts of life. For a film that deals with profound moral issues, Wild River is remarkably free of tendentious moralizing. One cannot help thinking that the ambiguities of his own political struggles enabled Kazan to see the shades of gray in other contentious areas of American life.
– Mark Royden Winchell, God, Man and Hollywood
Elia Kazan (“America, America”/”Pinky”/”East Of Eden”) directs this evocative sociological/historical melodrama getting across his old-fashioned liberal views. It’s one of his best efforts and that has to do with it being less theatrical and more genuinely moving than his usual endeavors, as it features a battle of progress versus tradition.
– Dennis Schwartz, Ozu’s Movie World Reviews
The 1960 movie Wild River by Elia Kazan is kind of The Fountainhead in reverse: The government is presented as the source of progress, while the individual provides the impediments. To paraphrase Ellsworth Toohey, all the wrong people are on the wrong sides. Despite this flawed premise, if understood correctly, Wild River hints at some valuable lessons on human rights.
Viewed casually, Wild River is a monument to the false dichotomy of progress versus individualism. The director Elia Kazan — a liberal despite his heroic HUAC testimony — may have had in mind apparently was: The deplorable but inevitable tragedy that for collective safety and progress individuals must be sacrificed. But of course progress doesn’t come at the price of individual sacrifice — rather, it is the individual who makes all progress.
The whole problem is only caused by the TVA’s own stupidity. They should have assembled their lot before building the dam. If someone refused to sell, they would have to build the dam elsewhere. But what if there is only one possible site? Even that is no excuse for eminent domain. Besides, with all the expenses for moving Ella, they might as well have built a levee around her island.
Now, someone might defend eminent domain by claiming reason only goes so far — or that Ella is insane to oppose the values of progress. That Glover was unable to reason with Ella doesn’t mean reason is limited. It doesn’t even mean she’s insane. It is only that she values other things than Glover, me, and most of us. Instead of dams, electric power, and flood control, she values her farm. Some of her reasons are purely sentimental, like her wish to get buried on the island next to her husband. Other reasons, like not wanting the good soil submerged, are perfectly reasonable.
In the long run, however, progress is only possible through the work of the individual. The preconditions for his work are his absolute, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. That means in the short run we pay a price for our rights: The price is that we have to respect the rights of every other peaceable citizen — no matter what he values. If we cannot get a dam, a skyscraper, or a job without looting — then we cannot have that specific dam, skyscraper, or job.
– Alexander Butziger, The Ayn Rand Atlasphere
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Wild River was shot entirely on location in Tennessee, in the towns of Cleveland, where the cast and crew were lodged, and Charleston, and on Lake Chickamauga and the Hwassee River. The large set used for the Garth farmhouse took two months to construct at a cost of $40,000 and was subsequently burnt down for one of the film’s final scenes. Eighty percent of the film’s approximately fifty speaking parts were filled by locals with no previous acting experience. According to an article published in LA Mirror-News in Nov 1959, Kazan sparked a controversy in Cleveland after he hired extras from a slum known as “Gum Hollow” to play Depression-era Southerners. A number of prominent townspeople were angered by Kazan’s casting choice and allegedly claimed that the “white trash” of Gum Hollow did not accurately depict the area’s Depression unemployed. Kazan reportedly had to reshoot a few scenes, this time using “respectiable, legitimate unemployed” in place of the “squatters.”
Cahiers du Cinema: People have said… about Wild River – that the photography was too exaggerated, was false. What do you think of that?
Elia Kazan: I feel that the photography was very good, especially in the exterior scenes. But I am not as fond of the photography of the dramatic scenes shot close up in interiors. I said to myself – his face is too orange, it looks too pleasant – especially that of the hero. As for Clift – who is dead no, and who was a great artist – at that time Monty Clift’s skin was in very bad condition, and consequently he used too much makeup. Therefore the colors were at once too crude and too healthy. So I said to the cameraman – this man is an intellectual; he has never seen the sunlight before coming here; he has come down here among us straight from his office. Thus I want him to have the air of a bureaucrat, to have a touch of the bureaucrat about him. But that did not work very well… Oh, I do not want to blame anyone; merely, I failed and I regret it. All the more because I would have liked very much to get the contrast between his pallor and the wholesome glow of the girl.
– Interviewed by Michel Delahaye in Cahiers du Cinema, published in Elia Kazan: Interviews. By Elia Kazan, William Baer. Published by Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2000. Pages 82-83
ABOUT ELIA KAZAN
Quotes found on TSPDT profile page for Elia Kazan:
“In works like Viva Zapata, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, Baby Doll and Wild River (his quietest and best film), he abandoned the studio for location shooting, but retained the services of Actors Studio stars like Brando, Dean and Steiger, effectively revolutionising film acting; in retrospect, however, many of the performances look less naturalistic than overwrought, just as the direction, despite the focus on ‘serious’ issues, often seems overemphatic.” – Geoff Andrew (The Director’s Vision, 1999)
“As an archetypal auteur, he progressed from working on routine assignments to developing more personal themes, producing his own pictures, and ultimately directing his own scripts. At his peak during a period (1950–1965) of anxiety, gimmickry, and entropy in Hollywood, Kazan remained among the few American directors who continued to believe in the cinema as a medium for artistic expression and who brought forth films that consistently reflected his own creative vision.” – Lloyd Michaels (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)
“All of Elia Kazan’s films have strong social themes, a keen sense of location and superb performances. Despite his betrayal of his friends at the McCarthy hearings in 1952, Kazan’s reputation as one of the finest directors in the US has never wavered.” – Ronald Bergan (Film – Eyewitness Companions, 2006)
“A social critic who examines Americans and the American dream, Kazan has turned out some of the most powerful cinema studies since World War II..” – William R. Meyer (The Film Buff’s Catalog, 1978)
“When you know what an actor has, you can reach in and arouse it. If you don’t know what he has, you don’t know what the hell is going on.” – Elia Kazan
His films have been most consistently concerned with the theme of power, expressed as either the restless yearning of the alienated or the uneasy arrangements of the strong. The struggle for power is generally manifested through wealth, sexuality, or, most often, violence. Perhaps because every Kazan film except A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Last Tycoon (excluding a one-punch knockout of the drunken protagonist) contains at least one violent scene, some critics have complained about the director’s “horrid vulgarity” (Lindsay Anderson) and “unremitting stridency” (Robin Wood), yet even his most “overheated” work contains striking examples of restrained yet resonant interludes: the rooftop scenes of Terry and his pigeons in On the Waterfront, the tentative reunion of Bud and Deanie at the end of Splendor in the Grass, the sequence in which Stavros tells his betrothed not to trust him in America America. Each of these scenes could be regarded not simply as a necessary lull in the drama, but as a privileged, lyrical moment in which the ambivalence underlying Kazan’s attitude toward his most pervasive themes seems to crystallize.
–Lloyd Michaels, Film Reference.com
Passion — or, more specifically, intensity — was the recurring motif of Kazan’s career, as well as his preferred method. Beginning with his involvement with the Actors Studio during his theatrical days and the development of the so-called Method Acting (or, as Humphrey Bogart once tagged it, “the scratch-your-ass-and-mumble” school of acting), he was obsessed with pumping visceral physicality into scenes. To a firm believer in the dramatic power of two bodies slamming against each other, no argument would be complete without overturned tables and smashed china. Bracketed by the gentility of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in 1945 and The Last Tycoon in 1976 lies a wide variety of rows, collisions and eruptions — a fortissimo style that, in the words of vintage iconoclast Dwight Macdonald, was “forthright the way a butcher is forthright when he slaps down a steak for a customer’s inspection.”
Meat slab or not, Kazan’s handling of material could be maddening. For all the vividness of the details and the rawness of his players, the intensity of his direction was often, in the words of Andrew Sarris, “more excessive than expressive.” It’s difficult to believe, for instance, that the heightened mannerisms of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) were ever considered the latest word in naturalism, and A Face in the Crowd (1957) is so overloaded with Kazanian sweat and bellowing that it all but shatters the camera lenses. My own path with Kazan’s movies has been bumpy. When I first encountered his many award-coddled classics, I thought he was sweating a little too much for effects — as far as emotional intensity and ballsy idiosyncrasy were concerned, Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller were much more to my liking.
I like his later, calmer, quieter movies far better: Wild River (1960), Splendor in the Grass (1961) and particularly America, America (1963) are, in one word, overwhelming. In them, one feels Kazan pruning his stylistic hysteria into a direct connection with audiences, achieving what he set out to do from the beginning — that is, to speak through film in the first person. And that is why, no matter how I may feel about his actions and his intransigence toward them, I respect and admire Elia Kazan. He directed as he lived, full ahead with his guts, and if that made him a pariah to many, well, that wasn’t his problem.
– Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion
Richard Wall offers an extensive review of Richard Schickel’s biography of Elia Kazan
ABOUT MONTGOMERY CLIFT
Among the 17 films that Montgomery Clift appeared in, it is impossible to point to any one role as “defining” Clift’s image on screen, in the way that A Streetcar Named Desire and Rebel without a Cause established Brando’s and James Dean’s personalities in the public’s mind. Yet Clift was one of the first actors of his generation to capture the attention of moviegoing audiences with performances that were sensitive, complex, and deeply introspective in nature. The combination of intensity and vulnerability that he brought to his characters—qualities magnified in later years by the car accident that destroyed his matinee-idol good looks and compounded the problems of an already troubled personality—was unique in 1948, when Clift was catapulted to stardom by the release of his first two films, The Search (for which he received an Oscar nomination) and Red River.
With the recent revelation of the fact of Clift’s bisexuality, one is able to see more into the correlation between his star personality (that of vulnerability, sensitivity, and almost effeminate masculinity closer to androgyny) and the real-life Clift (whose swinging sexuality and unsettling dissatisfaction throughout life mirrors and projects a troubled soul onto the big screen). Clift’s own claim regarding this uncertainty in him reveals more than a touch of stubbornness and pride: “I don’t want to be labeled as either a pansy or a heterosexual. Labeling is so self-limiting” (quoted by Graham McCann in Rebel Males). Throughout Clift’s career, one sees a wide range of roles played, each of them nothing short of constant erotic tensions coming not only from the dramatic characters or his acting but also from a lifelong felt and lived conflict of an unsettled sexuality.
—Janet E. Lorenz, updated by Guo-Juin Hong, Film Reference.com
ABOUT LEE REMICK
Central to Lee Remick’s complex and fascinating screen presence during the first phase of her career is a sense of erotic warmth, an irreducible sensuality, capable (when combined with her remarkable gifts as an actress) of the most diverse inflections, depending on the degree to which it is allowed or denied free expression. Consider two of her finest performances, in the two finest films in which she appeared, made within a year of each other: Anatomy of a Murder and Wild River. The former is built upon the character’s sexual knowingness, seductiveness, promiscuity, the latter on the character’s sexual deprivation and subsequent reawakening. Preminger uses Remick’s sensuality as one aspect of his detailed, multifaceted exercise in sustained ambiguity: she plays a woman ready deliberately to exploit her attractiveness as a means of manipulation, yet the erotic charge she communicates is so strong that its genuineness is never in question. The character’s uninhibited sensuality, which might have been presented as merely degenerate (the Hollywood stereotype of the “nymphomaniac”), becomes in Remick’s performance engaging, oddly touching. Wild River seems easily Kazan’s best film, the only one in which his self-conscious pretensions to social significance are completely assimilated into a fully realized dramatic texture, and Remick’s performance as the young, uneducated, widowed mother is crucial to its success. In her earlier scenes, she movingly communicates a potential for life stifled by calamity and deprivation, above all by erotic starvation. She then beautifully realizes the gradual transition to rebirth, a rebirth at once sexual and spiritual, made possible by contact, not with an overt, macho sexuality, but with the sensitivity, diffidence, and gentleness rendered by Montgomery Clift with an inwardness that equals Remick’s—creating one of Hollywood’s finest love stories.
—Robin Wood, updated by David E. Salamie, Film Reference.com
Wild River was not only Lee’s favorite film to make, but Elia Kazan’s as well. “I love Wild River,” he said, “just the ease of it, the simplicity. I tried to deal more with my own sense of beauty. It’s purer, one of the two purest films I‘ve made.”
Thinking back over her experience making Wild River, Lee said almost the same thing. “My interpretation of the role in Wild River,” she recalled, “was the truest in my experience, and it was Kazan who enabled me to make it true.”
Wild River was Lee’s second film with Kazan, (her first was, A Face in the Crowd). “As for the love interest”, Kazan explained, “I cast one of the finest younger actresses I knew, Lee Remick, then at the top of her strength and confidence.”
The film was made on location in Cleveland, Tennessee – a little town of about 20,000. Many of the local townspeople had small parts or worked as extras, and there were usually a handful of locals on hand to watch the magic of movie-making. Lee remembers an amusing incident that involved a few young college boys who, having seen Lee’s performance in Anatomy of a Murder, were surprised to see Lee’s characterization of a backwoods Tennessee girl. The following is taken from an article by Joe Hyams called, The Notorious Adventures of a Nice Girl in Hollywood.
“When I was doing Wild River, Gadge [Elia Kazan] had me work without make-up, my hair hanging down to my shoulders and wearing sneakers. One day when we were just outside of Cleveland, Tennessee, I was in costume for the role, wearing a bedspread made into a dress. After we finished shooting I passed some college kids who had come to watch.
“Later that night my phone rang and it was one of the college boys saying he had a bet with the boys at school that it really was me they had seen that afternoon. I said it was and asked why there was any doubt. ‘Last time we saw you in a picture you were wearing slacks and high heels and were very sexy,’ he said. ‘Tell me, Miss Remick, what’s happened to you since that picture?'”
The young boys seemed to forget – Lee Remick was an actress!
– From Remembering Lee Remick