Thursday, July 05, 2007

Starring Ferlin Husky

Because everybody should see at least one Ferlin Husky movie in his lifetime, I caught Something Weird Video's DVD of SWAMP GIRL tonight (paired with SWAMP COUNTRY, which I'll watch at a later date). Husky was a popular country-western singer of the 1950s who made sporadic film appearances, the most notorious likely being HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (sic), which I know I'm going to have to see one of these days. He only gets to sing one song in 1971's SWAMP GIRL, which is a pretty decent theme staged with Ferlin and his guitar perched on a pavilion railing until he's interrupted by a redneck reporting the case of a snakebite victim who was dropped off by a mysterious, uh, swamp girl.

Rumors flow around the Okefenokee of a beautiful blond swamp girl who lives alone in the wilderness. When the snakebite victim is discovered by a trio of beer-swilling poachers, they believe he was killed by the swamp girl and mean to find her. Good ol' swamp ranger Jimmy (Husky) gets them to hold off while he spends the day tooling around on his airboat looking for her. Which he does...surprisingly easily.

Her backstory is right out of a sleazy paperback novel and is related to the swamp girl (her name is Jeanene) by her "pa"--a black man named Nat (Harrison Page of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and SLEDGE HAMMER!, hiding behind a pseudonym). The shack where Jeanene and Nat live deep in the swamp was once inhabited by a nasty, drunken old doctor who used it to perform illegal abortions. Sometimes, the women were too pregnant for an abortion, so after giving birth, they would leave their babies with the doctor, who sold them into white slavery. Nat, who hid out with the doctor after stealing a pair of jeans, took a liking to little Jeanene and protected her from the doctor. But one day, the lure of easy money overtook the doc, and he tried to sell her to a couple of ne'er-do-wells, who murdered the doc and stole the girl, only to have Nat smack them in the face with a hatchet.

As Jeanene ponders whether to take Jimmy up on his offer to introduce her to civilization, a female escaped convict and her boyfriend hide out in the swamp, blast Nat to death with a shotgun, and force Jeanene to guide them across the state line into Florida. Meanwhile, the convict's parents hire those three rednecks from the beginning of the movie to take them into the swamp, so they can find their girl killer before Jimmy and the sheriff (Claude King) do.

Whew. For a movie that runs only 78 minutes, there's a lot going on in SWAMP GIRL, including death by gator, death by gun, death by quicksand and death by snake. Despite the violence, SWAMP GIRL carries a GP (sic) rating card, which sadly means director Donald Davis (whose association with crappy movies goes all the way back to his gofer duties on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) blows the opportunity to probe the sleazier side of a beautiful blond virgin from the swamps.

Jeanene, by the way, is played by Simone Griffeth, who went on to play David Carradine's romantic lead in DEATH RACE 2000 and several television guest shots. Like most of SWAMP GIRL's cast, Griffeth is a Georgia native and was likely discovered by Davis. None of the acting is particularly good, but the accents and appearances are quite authentic, which goes a long way towards making the melodramatics feel real. Husky certainly isn't a natural actor--counting the number of times he fiddles with his hat would be a great drinking game--but his cornpone demeanor is likable and convincing. I liked his song too.

Davis has trouble stretching to 78 minutes, so he uses lots of shots of people getting on and off their boats or just cruising around. A climactic plot twist by producer/cinematographer/co-writer Jay Kulp is a little much to swallow, but it eats up a few more minutes until Husky can reprise the theme.

I ended up liking SWAMP GIRL, which must have been a bear to film. Except for the rustic set representing the doctor's cabin, everything was shot in the Okefenokee, where the gator wranglers likely earned every penny.

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