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Force and Government-Guaranteed Progress: A Scene in Elia Kazan's Wild River (1960)

Gary North
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February 2, 2009

Elia Kazan was a great director. His autobiographical movie, America, America (1963) is as good a film on immigration to America as I have ever seen. But Wild River is even better. It takes on the Tennessee Valley Authority, which remains untouchable.

This scene, where Montgomery Clift confronts Ella Garth, gives two views of the government-mandated removal of all residents on islands or on the banks of the river. It takes place in the mid-1930's. It begins with the government man, who has come to persuade her to sell her island property. He comes in the name of progress. He is barking up the wrong tree. She is not buying any of it.

The issue is properry vs. government force. Few scenes have every matched this. One of them occurs later in this film.

In the second scene, she arranges a lesson for the bureaucrat. She sets up a confrontation with a black employee, who owns a dog. She says she will buy it. He refuses to sell. She says she will make him sell. He refuses. She then points out the Clift the importance of the right not to sell.

The actor was Robert Earl Jones, James Earl Jones' father. I wish I had a YouTube version. The scene is one of the finest presentations in movie history on the rights of private property.

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