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  Swamp Fire We'll Have Big Fun On The Bayou
Year: 1946
Director: William H. Pine
Stars: Johnny Weissmuller, Virginia Grey, Buster Crabbe, Carol Thurston, Pedro de Cordoba, Marcelle Corday, William Edmunds, Edwin Maxwell, Pierre Watkin, Charles Gordon, Frank Fenton, David Janssen, I. Stanford Jolley
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Johnny Duval (Johnny Weissmuller) was a ship's pilot in World War II, and previous to that had been a so-called "bar pilot" for the coastguard in Louisiana, but his experiences in battle have proven too much for him to bear after he lost his crew in an attack. Now he simply wishes to return to his swampland home and settle down with his sweetheart Toni Rousseau (Carol Thurston), get a job, and live out a quiet life. This will prove difficult thanks to the appearance of a woman in a speedboat: manhungry socialite Janet Hilton (Virginia Grey).

Not so much a meet cute as a meet brute as she rams Johnny's canoe while he rows through the bayou heading for home, not deliberately, she was simply inept and manages to run her craft aground. After giving Johnny a piece of her mind, no matter that he's obviously traumatised by the crash, she orders him to take her to the nearest civilisation, and that's how she begins to obsess over this poor chap. By 1946, Weissmuller was something of a poor chap himself, his best Tarzan days behind him as he was soon to be too out of shape to continue in the role, and heavy drinking beginning to take its toll on the former Olympic athlete.

Another former Olympic athlete in the cast was ex-Flash Gordon, and ex-Tarzan (briefly) for that matter, Buster Crabbe who got to play the bad guy for a change, which is the reason Swamp Fire is recalled, if at all, these days: the pairing of these two great men of action in one film, the only example they made together. It was pretty much the sole outing Weissmuller made that did not have a jungle theme, between the Lord of the Apes and his budget Jungle Jim series, which also added a layer of interest - how would he do in a role which required a little more acting? Was he believable as anyone other than a strapping hero or was that what he was hired for all along in this case?

Sad to say, while Weissmuller's delivery was ideal for the Apeman he portrayed indelibly, offered a more nuanced character - traumatised war veteran, torn between two women who covet him, struggling to get back to work when it fills him with dread - all he could do was read his lines woodenly and do his best when the physical sequences happened along. Crabbe was obviously having a lot more fun as the villain even if he did get fewer scenes, but if anything Swamp Fire illustrated why his co-star never got much of a chance to prove his thespian talents, mainly because he didn't really have very many. Indeed, the impression is if he was playing a mute then the part would have been more effective.

But he wasn't, and though you're meant to feel sympathy for the hard luck character he portrayed, you're more likely to feel sorry for Weissmuller himself. As for the plot, Johnny is all set to marry Toni when Janet contrives to get him into her clutches, and a city folk versus country folk rivalry erupts especially between the ladies, though Crabbe's trapper Mike Kalavich (that accent!) feels the pressure when he's told not to hunt anymore in his usual areas thanks to them being cordoned off for the wealthier hunters to take their pickings. When Johnny is persuaded back to pilot a boat, tragedy strikes and it crashes (bad luck just follows this guy around), leaving him recuperating at the home of Janet - and she's not letting anyone see him except her friends, so what can Toni do? There were the trappings of a neat enough thriller here, but they chose to go the less intriguing melodrama route; though on a par with the Poverty Row productions, Monogram might have made more of the material.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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