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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine swamp noir, with a gloomy mansion, quicksand, dark intentions and, perhaps, madness, 24 July 2007
By 
C. O. DeRiemer (San Antonio, Texas, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dark Waters [DVD] [1944] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
To grab one's attention, there's nothing quite like a screaming face with bulging eyes slowly sinking under quicksand. Few actors could bulge and scream as well as Elisha Cook Jr, and in Dark Waters he's given every opportunity to deserve his fate. Please note that while elements of the plot are discussed, we know the whodunnit within the first 15 minutes of the movie. It's the whydunnit combined with swamp atmosphere and movie-making craftsmanship that make the movie as good as it is.

Leslie Calvin (Merle Oberon) was one of four survivors of a sub attack during World War II. She and her parents were returning to America from Batavia. She wakes up in a Louisiana hospital, distraught, anxious, knowing no one and afraid she's losing her mind. She remembers a sister of her mother, and her doctor encourages her to write. She eventually receives a letter inviting her to stay with her Aunt Emily and Uncle Norbert at a plantation house on Bayou Grandterre, near the small town of Belleville, Louisiana. She sends a telegram saying when she will arrive, but when she gets off the train no one is there to meet her. Her anxiety kicks in, she faints from the heat, and wakes up in the train station being attended to by Doctor George Grover (Franchot Tone). He drives her to the mansion, gloomy and colonnaded, where she meets her aunt and uncle (Fay Bainter and John Qualen) and a Mr. Sydney (Thomas Mitchell). Sydney seems sympathetic and caring; he also seems to run the plantation and to run Aunt Emily and Uncle Norbert. He always wears seedy-looking white suits. He regrets not receiving Leslie's telegram, and Aunt Emily says she doesn't understand what could have happened. Leslie is welcomed warmly and shown her room. Dr. Grover cautions Mr. Sydney on how precarious Leslie's mental health is. As Grover drives off, Mr. Sydney takes Leslie's telegram from his pocket, wads it up and throws it in the trash.

And now in this gloomy mansion on the edge of a swamp, Leslie begins to experience unsettling things...a shutter banging in the night, a lamp she turns off which later comes on, a voice softly calling her into the swamp. Her aunt is sympathetic but dithering. "You're not eating, dear," she tells Leslie. "I do think you should have a hot biscuit." Her uncle is preoccupied. Mr. Sydney is avuncular and watchful. Before long, she also meets Cleeve (Elisha Cook Jr.), the man Mr. Sydney hired to oversee the plantation, a man who urges Leslie to have fun with him, who likes to touch her arm, who blinks a little too fast when he's excited. "It must be awful drowning in quicksand," Cleeve tells her one day. "Water's cleaner at least...faster." "Cleeve," Mr Sydney says, "please...think of Leslie." All she has to depend on is George Grover, a man who is falling in love with her but who may not believe her suspicions. The climax comes in the bayou at night, where the dark water is choked with swamp grass and a solid path can lead to a slow, strangling death in quicksand.

If there's a category called swamp noir, and I see no reason why there shouldn't be, Dark Waters would be a leading example. The film's atmosphere is dark, humid and filled with dread. The mansion not only has seen better days, but so has the old sugar house nearby. It's derelict now and sits right on the edge of the swamp with only a narrow passage leading from shore to the boat dock. Much of the action takes place at night, when many creeping things can hide, a path can be mistaken and a corpse hidden. Merle Oberon and Franchot Tone do fine jobs in the lead roles, but what makes this movie work so well are Mitchell, Bainter, Qualen and Cook. The four never go over the top. While we know bad things are happening, and we know they are part of it, we never find out just how bad things are until the end. Mitchell and Bainter are particularly good. What also makes this movie work is the efficiency and craftsmanship of the screenwriters and the director. They take less than five minutes to establish Leslie's situation, less than 15 minutes to place her in the middle of the plot. From then on, they steadily increase the dread and unease. And then, right in the middle of the movie, they take 10 minutes to put Leslie and George in a Cajun fais do-do, with fiddles, accordions, lots of dancing and the kids of a Cajun family that Leslie met the previous day. It's a great device to ease up on the plot a little and then bring things back with even more tension afterwards.

This is a first-rate and largely forgotten movie. If you like noir and are fond of excellent character acting, this would be a film to add to your collection. The DVD visual and audio are not perfect but much better than you might expect. The DVD is easy to watch. It has no extras.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Belleville Bedlam., 13 Oct 2013
By 
Spike Owen "John Rouse Merriott Chard" (Birmingham, England.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dark Waters [DVD] [1944] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Dark Waters is directed by André De Toth and collectively written by Marian B. Cockrell, Joan Harrison, Arthur Horman, John Huston and Francis M. Cockrell. It stars Merle Oberon, Franchot Tone, Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, Elisha Cook Jr., John Qualen and Rex Ingram. Music is by Miklós Rózsa and cinematography by John J. Mescall and Archie Stout.

After recovering from a traumatic boat incident that saw her parents killed, Leslie Calvin (Oberon) travels to the bayous of Louisiana to stay with her next of kin. But upon arrival it quickly becomes evident that nothing is as it seems...

In 1944 Merle Oberon made two horror movies that very much relied on atmosphere and film noir visuality over any great semblance of psychological evaluation. With the far superior The Lodger rightly moving into classic territory as it boasted Laird Cregar, John Brahm and Lucien Ballard operating out of the top draw, Dark Waters, with its modest production values and second tier work force, feels like a B movie appetiser to Brahm's movie. Yet in spite of some overkill in the screenplay, there is much to enjoy here for the Gothic horror fan.

Dark Waters is a fascinating thriller movie, it may play its hand far too early, and it really does, but the reverse plot device of having the lady protagonist be mentally troubled at the outset - only to have her grow in mental stability as the narrative unfolds - adds a non conformist kink to the picture. De Toth and his cinematographers fill the production with a feverish like dream state that picks away at the conscious, where although the woman in peril angle is slowly drawn out, the rewards are there to be had for those who like to see the visual surroundings mirror the mental health of the central character.

The resolution, as was so often the case in olde classic movies trying to make mental health a viable issue, is cheap in the context of medicinal recovery. To that end it's a little frustrating viewing it these days to know that all we needed was some handsome/pretty cohort to get us through trauma! Yet in 1944 film makers were still trying to get to grips with a horror that didn't involve some monstrous creature moving through the landscape. There are many things wrong with Dark Waters when viewing it now, but if you can accept it as a 1944 movie and embrace it for its visual touches (and the makers do not disappoint with shadowy and spooky atmospherics), then it's a movie well worth taking an interest in. Besides which! Elisha Cook is in there being a shifty weasel, what more do you want in some Louisiana swamp based Gothic noir picture... 7/10
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, 21 Jan 2009
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This review is from: Dark Waters [DVD] [1944] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
I'll start with the negative - Elisha Cook Jr - I cant relate to him at all in anything I've seen him in. In this one he also does some unnecessary screaming at the end of the film which is characteristically 3rd rate. Personal feelings aside about him, its a good film. Merle Oberon is good in the lead role as someone being psychologically tortured by her "family". The supporting cast are all good, except for you-know-who! Thomas Mitchell makes a good baddie, especially as he looks like Bill Haley, a friendly grandfather-type, and completely harmless. This makes his ruthless nature more effective as its gradually revealed.
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Dark Waters [DVD] [1944] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dark Waters [DVD] [1944] [US Import] [NTSC] by André De Toth (DVD - 1999)
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