Forgotten Friday Flick – “Southern Comfort”

Having recently watched another oldie but goodie in remembrance of the late great Powers Boothe (the previous being Extreme Prejudice!), I thought why not throw it up this week to keep the tribute going – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick!  Today’s hidden gem was the first collaboration between famed Director Walter Hill and the brilliant Boothe as the two took on the dangers of the Louisiana bayou.  (Both in front and behind the camera!)  Seems a gang of ill equipped National Guardsman find themselves in the crosshairs of some very sinister swamp folks after a little not-so-harmless prank and end up fighting for their very lives.  Bravado and bullets, explosions and spear beds, killers and Cajun Cooder music all set the stage for a little unwelcome…Southern Comfort.

Corporal Charles Hardin is a former Texas National Guardsman now stationed in Louisiana.  He’s a sullen and serious soldier and immediately clashes with the very flippant and seemingly lightweight members of his new group.  The sly eyed Corporal Reece, goofy Private Stuckey, lazy Private Cribbs and even the two leaders Sergeant Casper and Staff Sergent Poole all seem like a joke to Hardin.  The only person he can stand is the easy going Private Spencer – and even then with only a purely base level of respect.  So when the entire gang decides to pilfer some local pirogues to ride the river that aren’t theirs, plus stupidly fire some blanks in the direction of the owners as a joke, Hardin and his fellow hooligans find themselves under serious and life threatening attack. Vicious, skilled and armed with an obvious vendetta against the military intruders, a gang of angry Cajuns proceed to systematically hunt the guardsman down, playing a very real game of cat and mouse inside their sinister swamp ridden land.  Who will survive?

While most Walter Hill films focus more on the simple story staging, the beauty of his work with Southern Comfort is his great attention to character detail.  Not that there are not plenty of action notables (the death trap of T.K. Carter’s character Cribbs is brutal stuff!), signature style (the soothing slide guitar sounds of frequent Hill collaborator Ry Cooder fills the air with Cajun flavor that adds fittingly to the fervor!), sumptuous settings (you can feel the dirt and grime within the deep swampy locations – how did they get cameras in there?!) and cool kills (a knife to the nuts has gotta hurt!), but the characters go well beyond being simple cardboard cutouts and as a result a flick already ridden with constant high tension proves all the more captivating – investing is easy with characters you care about.

Every member of the ragtag group of Guardsman provides a different but significant piece of the male machismo puzzle – a mix of emotions that mirrors the tense situations.  Powers Boothe’s Hardin provides the bravado, Keith Carradine’s Spencer the smarts (the two together provide a pre-Dafoe/Berenger Platoon opposites dynamic feel!), Fred Ward’s Reece the cautiousness, Lewis “The Heavenly Kid” Smith’s Stuckey the comic relief and Carlos Brown’s haunted Bowden the sheer insanity.  (There’s even more like leader Peter Coyote as the confidence and sub-par second-in-command Les Lannom laying out the cowardice – but you get the point!)  All work in cool conflicting tandem to match the feelings of the viewer – one sensational senses experience to remember indeed.

This was a film early in the career of Hill, but it’s most assuredly one of his best.  And while it may have pangs of Deliverance for some, the well thought out characters and pure powerful performances give it a uniqueness to proudly be able to stand on its own story merit.  A terrifying taut tale that doesn’t get made much anymore, Southern Comfort indeed provides titular chilling cinematic contentment where hunters can easily become the hunted.


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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