Thursday, April 6, 2006

The Well

The Well(1951)
Directed by Leo C. Popkin and Russell Rouse
Written by Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene
Starring Richard Rober, Gwendoline Laster, Maidie Norman, Harry Morgan
IMDB Entry

A movie about ten years ahead of its time in subject matter. It seems to have been recognized in its time:  two Oscar nominations, but it faded into obscurity.

Maybe, with Crash winning the Oscar, it's time to bring it back.  It's a film about racial tensions, built on a simple incident:  in a small, racially mixed town, a young Black girl vanishes.  Rumors arise saying she was last seen with a White man. 

And the town explodes.  The Black community wants the White man caught and punished; the White community tries to protect the suspect and fears a race riot.  Tensions rise and the town is about to explode.

Then, they find the girl has fallen into a well and the community unites to save her.

My favorite moment is just when things are about to turn ugliest.  The Whites are essentially arming themselves to go out and preemptively attack the Blacks.  Their leader is planning out orders when someone comes running in and says, "They found the little girl!"

The leader turns angrily.  "What little girl?" he shouts, then pauses.  "Oh," he says, very quietly.

If this film had come out in 1961, it would probably be considered an important landmark in race relations.*  But 1951 was a bit too early.  It didn't help that the film seems to have vanished.  I suspect it went into the public domain at one point, since a local TV station ran it several times a week in the early 80s (the station was struggling and was later bought out).  The production company seems to have gone out of business with the film; their earlier film DOA is PD, so this film probably is, too.  In any case, there doesn't seem to be a DVD or Video.  It's too bad.  The film is both important and well-done, and worth bringing back.

*It did get three Oscar nominations, but no wins.

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