Realism and Escapism: Wild River and Top Hat

A gorgeous print of Elia Kazan’s 1960 drama  Wild River, restored by The Film Foundation with the help of Fox and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, screened at tonight’s TCM Fest to an audience that, largely, had never seen the film before.

Yours truly included.

Clift and Remick--a river ran through it.

Curtis Hanson, director of LA Confidential and Wonder Boys, and a member of the Film Foundation’s board of directors, introduced the new print with pride and it soon became all too apparent why he was so excited to have the privilege. A Kazan film is always good, but Wild River was simply superlative and held it’s audience relentlessly captive. A quieter film than Streetcar, a more genteel film than Waterfront and lacking the ATTENTION WORLD, THIS IS A MESSAGE FILM banner of, say, A Face in the CrowdWild River is still nothing if not a masterpiece. White knuckled suspense, searing drama, steamy romance and a bold social statment manage to weigh in beautiful balance under Kazan’s eye. I am resisting the urge to fall into an analytical gush-fest…suffice to say, thank GOD the Foundation restored this exceptional and criminally overlooked film.

And then what do I do? I turn right around and indulge in one of the most famous examples of Hollywood escapism ever filmed: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat. Robert Osborn introduced the beloved 1935 musical, Fred and Ginger’s most popular, and told the audience that of all the films being shown at the festival this is one of the ones he would choose to see.

Fred & Ginger Cheek to Cheek

And he’s right. Fred and Ginger weren’t made for the constraints of a TV screen.  Up on the big screen, their decadent world simply shimmers. And oh, those splashy musical numbers and, most important of all, Fred’s feet!! The audience was in a near-constant fit of laugher, proving that even after 75 years, Hollywood’s depression-era escapism still is an effective panacea.

And I wonder … how much of it has to do with the timelessness of the material, and how much of it has to do with the fact the unstable world we live in is as hard pressed for audiences today as it was for audiences then … maybe it’s both.

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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

One thought on “Realism and Escapism: Wild River and Top Hat

  1. Hey love…thank you so very much for sharing your experience of the TCM festival so far! I’m sure Top Hat was just breathtaking. I just got back from seeing the Warner Bros. cartoons which were fun! It was cool seeing something that probably will never air. As always, your blog is such a pleasure to read. This is the other old soul that works right down the hall from you. 😉

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