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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Yellowneck (1955)




Dir: R. John Hugh - Cast: Lin Mc Carthy, Stephen Courtleigh, Berry Kroeger, Harold Gordon, Bill Mason, Al Tamez, Jose Billie

An odd little movie, like most movies set in Civil War days, it's part war movie, part western, but in this case it's more War than West. To begin with, it is set in Florida, not your usual western setting, and the story of five Confederate soldiers lost in the Everglades, often seems closer to the lost patrol type of WWII movies, set on a South Sea Island, about marines making their way through the jungle, stalked by Japs. To give the film at least some western feel, the Japanese soldiers are replaced by Seminole Indians.

Four Yellownecks, that is Southern deserters, are running away from the battlefields for various reasons (one is a thief in possession of a sum of gold he has stolen from the Confederacy, the other is a Brit who has only recently arrived in the new world and has no sympathy for either side, etc.). They are joined by a disgraced officer, a Colonel who was drunk at a crucial moment. The four dream of reaching the coast and making it to Cuba, although none of them has any idea how to make the crossing; the Colonel knows they're fools, who will never reach the promised land, but he has no other choice than joining them. Apart from the hostile Indians, the men have to deal with snakes, gators, insects, and even a hurricane. 

It would be interesting to know what the film makers had in mind with this very unusual story about losers. You'd rather expect this type of narrative more in the early 70s (when directors and screenwriters seemed obsessed with showing the horrors and insanity of war)  than in the mid-fifties. It's an interesting movie but uneven movie, the premise is believable, or at least imaginable, but at the same time the action feels a little overwrought and over-dramatized (the Colonel dying in full delirium tremens, etc.). The actors do their job pretty well, delivering their solemn lines (often pure soliloquies) with aptness and conviction. Best known actor is probably Kroeger, who plays the thief.

Technically there are a few problems: the film was made on a tight budget and the gators look laughably unreal in a couple of scenes. There a scene with quicksand that'll make you cringe and a person also dies within seconds from a rattle-snake bite. The hurricane scene, on the other hand, looks suspiciously realistic. And indeed, the crew was surprised by a real hurricane during the shooting of the movie, and decided to take advantage of the situation.

Yellowneck is available on You Tube. The print (like the movie itself) is not great, but very watchable. 

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