The Well (1951 film)
The Well is a 1951 American film noir directed by Leo C. Popkin and Russell Rouse and starring Richard Rober, Gwendolyn Laster and Maidie Norman. It tackles the issue of racial tensions and collective behavior. It was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Leo C. Popkin|
|Produced by||Clarence Greene|
Leo C. Popkin
|Screenplay by||Clarence Greene|
|Music by||Dimitri Tiomkin|
|Edited by||Chester Schaeffer|
Harry Popkin Productions
|Distributed by||United Artists|
The film centers around Carolyn, a five-year-old black girl who falls into an abandoned, overgrown well while picking flowers on her way to school one morning. Her parents seek assistance from Sheriff Ben Kellogg (Richard Rober) to help find her.
Carolyn's disappearance causes anger and confusion in the community, and various rumors quickly spread amongst the white and black populations when a white stranger, Claude Packard (Harry Morgan), is arrested on suspicion of it.
Packard, a mining engineer, is in town visiting his uncle, Sam Packard, a well-known local businessman, who attempts to use his influence to get his nephew out of police custody. This inflames the racial tension further, and when he is approached by Carolyn's relatives outside the police station, he suffers a heart attack, which is reported among the white population as a racial attack. Things quickly get out of hand as various black and white gangs start attacking one another.
The Sheriff requests that the mayor order state assistance to put down the potentially serious disturbances and readies voluntary deputies to break up the growing white mob at Sam Packard's warehouse.
Before events can spiral completely out of control, Carolyn is found alive in the well but can't be easily extracted. It takes the combined efforts of all the townsfolk, and Claude Packard, to safely rescue her and return her to her family.
The film was shot on location in Marysville and Yuba City, California in 1950, and given the accents, it appears that the intention was not to portray a town in the South, but any small American town. The students in the classroom scenes were pupils at Marysville Elementary School.
Film critic Bosley Crowther praised the production and the cast: "A taut and absorbing exposition of human compassion and energy brought to bear upon a critical job of rescuing a little girl from an abandoned well impels to a pulse-quickening climax a middling social drama contained in the current attraction at Loew's State, an offbeat shocker simply titled The Well. Produced through the integrated talents of three alert and enterprising young men—Russell Rouse, Clarence Green and Leo Popkin—and played by a third-string cast which stands up to some powerful pounding, this tale of mercy overwhelming hate in a racially divided community rings truest in its merciful details."
Critic Craig Butler believes the film's social message holds up by today's standards. He wrote, "Although modern audiences are likely to find The Well somewhat dated, it actually holds up much better than many other 'socially conscious' films of the period (or of many other periods, for that matter)." He also discussed the casting: "The cast includes some professionals (such as a very good Harry Morgan) but also a number of non-pros; the latter may lack polish, but there's an energy to their work that is appropriate to the project."
- Academy Awards: Best Film Editing - Chester W. Schaeffer; Best Original Screenplay - Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse; 1952.
- Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture Score - Dimitri Tiomkin; 1952.
- Writers Guild of America: The Robert Meltzer Award (Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene) - Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene; 1952.
The film was released to DVD by Image Entertainment on February 20, 2007 as a Region 1 fullscreen DVD.