Adrift Wood

As late-ish Allan Dwan films go, DRIFTWOOD is pretty good. The title sets up an expectation of the seashore, which is nowhere to be seen as we begin in a ghost town, all tumbleweed and H.B. Warner. Drunken sexy Jesus promptly expires, leaving his granddaughter, little Natalie Wood, alone in the world.

The whole piece has a strange atmosphere — the setting seems postapocalyptic. Warner dies with “Beelzebub” on his lips, and little Natalie adopts the word, applying it to anything threatening. Then she adopts a dog, whom she names Hollingsworth, after herself. (The dog MIGHT be Lassie, or anyway A Lassie.)

Wandering towards the nearest town with Hollingsworth, Natalie meets Dean Jagger, surprisingly human and natural and nice for once. Ruth Warrick is nice too, as is Charlotte Greenwood and even Margaret Hamilton and of course Walter Brennan. The film is stuffed full of nice people, with only Jerome Cowan, the mayor, and his spoiled failson, Teddy Infuhr, as nasties.

In a packed programme, we get a pandemic and panic, vaccination programme, miracle cure, and a literal sheepdog trial as Hollingsworth is put in the dock for a crime he didn’t commit (biting the mayoral failson, though why anyone would blame him if he HAD…)

NW has to carry more of this film than in any of her other child roles, I think, and she’s quite excellent. Maybe a little professional, but cute as a button and charismatic as hell.

A moment that anticipates GYPSY.

The movie isn’t cinematically showy but you don’t look to Dwan for that. It has a nice bygone optimism: spotted fever puts the community in jeopardy but everyone pulls together and prays together and more or less everything works out OK. Maybe it could happen that way, then. Or maybe it was always a comforting lie. Hollywood Bokononism.

DRIFTWOOD stars Maria; Emily Monroe Norton Kane; Stumpy; Jesse Q. Grimm; Aunt Eller; Miles Archer; Jesus – the Christ; the Wicked Witch of the West; Mr. Manleigh; Phil Kelly / The Sphinx; Alfred the butler; Benjamin Kettle; Grandma Walton; Alfalfa; and Plenty O’Toole (scenes deleted).

4 Responses to “Adrift Wood”

  1. artihcus022 Says:

    I saw Driftwood recently on Prime Video and I liked it a lot. I think Natalie Wood gives one of the best child performances and comes off as truly childlike so she’s both cute but also has that ceaseless curiosity and energy that is immensely exhausting for adults to be around, and she gets wonderful reactions from everyone.

    Driftwood got traction as one of many “movie made on subject that’s suddenly relevant” during the last 2 years and it’s quite fitting.

  2. Natalie Woo was a truly remarkable child star. “Mircleon 34the Street” is her most famou underage performance, but I love her most in “The Ghost and mrs. Muir.” Read Gavn Lambert’s “Natalie Wood” bigraphy as he knew her from the beginning and has much to say about her ushy Stage Mother. Natalie could have done “Gypsy” bindfolded. I’ve always felt “All I Neeed is The Girl” was that film’s key number

  3. Your post title and image combo grabbed my attention. Kudos for that. :)

    I was vaguely aware of this film’s existence, but didn’t know what it was about. I’ll be on the lookout for it now. I’m a sucker for “orphan finds a good home” stories. :)

    And I love the connection you made to Gypsy – one of my all-time favorite films (and, possibly, my favorite Natalie Wood performance). :D

  4. It really is the kid version of that mirror moment. Hope you’ll enjoy.

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