Monday, August 5, 2013
Dark Waters (1944)
Leslie Calvin (Merle Oberon) and her family were trapped in Batavia in the Dutch East Indies when the Japanese invaded. They managed to get aboard a cargo steamer bound for New Orleans but the ship sank. There were only four survivors, including Leslie. Her parents both perished. As the film opens she is in a hospital in New Orleans. She is physically recovered but psychologically she is still extremely fragile. Her only surviving family comprises an uncle and an aunt whom she has never met. They are contacted but it seems they have just moved to Louisiana to take possession of a family plantation in the bayou country. Leslie had expected them to meet her at the railway station but for some reason they do not show up, and overcome by depression and loneliness she passes out. Luckily the kindly Dr George Grover (Franchot Tone) happens to be at hand.
Romance blossoms between Leslie and Dr Grover but for some unexplained reason no-one at Rossignol seems entirely happy about this. Also curious is the fact that even though they know about Leslie’s horrific experiences in an open boat after her ship was torpedoed they seem to keep making unfortunate references to the sea or to disturbing subjects involving water (such as the fact that not long before a woman had been claimed by the quicksands in the bayous).
Merle Oberon does pretty well in the leading role, conveying Leslie’s fears without resorting too much to hysterics. Franchot Tone gives a solid and likeable performance as Dr Grover. He underplays the role nicely. Elisha Cook Jr gives one of his best performances (and he was always good) as the creepy and distinctly over-friendly Cleeve. it is Thomas Mitchell however who steals the picture. He is delightful sinister as Mr Sydney. He is able to inject an extraordinary menace into Mr Sydney’s affability.
The bayou country setting is used with considerable skill and there is a definite southern gothic ambience to this picture. The swamps seem alive with menace and evil and one false step can land you in the quicksands. The rather gothic house fits in very nicely with the general tone. The people are as worrisome as the settings. The more charming a person is the more reason you have to fear them.
Dark Waters is an unusual and exceptionally interesting blend of terror, mystery and suspense. An excellent movie and worth grabbing even if the DVD is not up to scratch. Highly recommended.