Wind Across the Everglades
Cast & Crew
Gypsy Rose Lee
Early in the twentieth century, when rare birds are being hunted and killed illegally to supply the millinery industry with feathers, naturalist Walt Murdoch comes to the small frontier town of Miami, Florida seeking a teaching job at the high school. While stepping off the train the plumage of a woman's fashionably excessive hat slaps him in the face and, offended, he mischievously yanks out the feather and berates the woman. Her husband, wealthy George Leggett, a member of the school board who is secretly involved in plume traffic, blocks Walt's application to teach nature studies and has the sheriff arrest him. However, Audubon Society member Howard Ross Morgan offers Walt a job as bird game warden for the Everglades area and arranges with the judge to have Walt's sentence commuted to the warden position. Having been warned by Howard that the last two wardens were killed by Cottonmouth, who is the leader of a plume-hunting band of renegades known as the Swamp Angels, Walt makes his first canoe trip into the "'Glades."
He encounters Cottonmouth and his hooligans, who sneak up on him and then shoot at the birds in their nesting area. After he returns from the overnight trip, he eloquently describes the beauty of what he saw to immigrant storekeeper Aaron Nathanson and his daughter Naomi, with whom he has taken board. While Walt is inspired to protect the land and its wildlife, the kind Aaron, who grew up in a European ghetto, envisions that swamp land can be drained and filled to make more land for human habitation. Aaron invites Walt to be his partner, but Walt responds that "progress and I don't get along real well." He feels drawn to the `Glades, which he describes as a life force in its "purist, earliest form."
At the small village of shacks in the swamps where Cottonmouth's men reside, a rowdy named Beef and companion join up with the band, after engaging in hand to hand battle with Cottonmouth's men over sleeping cabins. Perfesser, a thoughtful member of the group whose vocabulary ranges from the vernacular to the academic, reports to Cottonmouth that their new foe Walt, whom they have nicknamed "Birdboy," "is no pantywaist." He can "hold his liquor," is "good with his dukes," "smokes big black cigars," and "is crazy enough to make trouble." Cottonmouth predicts that Walt will die of "natural causes" and makes plans to set his demise into motion.
Acting on Cottonmouth's, Beef introduces himself to Walt at a saloon and connects him with Billy One-Arm, an outcast Seminole who can act as his guide in the swampland. Although Billy, a member of Cottonmouth's gang, has been ordered to lure Walt deep into the dangerous `Glades and abandon him, the Indian realizes Walt's goodness. Instead, he intervenes when Walt attempts to touch the deadly manchineel tree sap that destroys the mucous membranes of humans, causing a painful death. Guessing that Billy has disobeyed his orders, Cottonmouth sends men to fetch him. Leaving Walt, they force Billy to their headquarters, where Cottonmouth "sentences" Billy to die by the manchineel tree. Walt follows the sound of Billy's wailing, but finds him dead. When Walt tries to untie Billy from the tree, he succumbs to the poison.
Returned to town unconscious by Billy's wife, Walt is nursed back to health by Naomi. Later, during Independence Day celebrations, Naomi and Walt admit to each other that they are in love. On that day, Aaron, with Leggett, is seeking approval from a state land commission hearing to begin expanding the town. Walt becomes suspicious when he sees Beef being carried into town on a thick mattress. Although Beef claims to be ill, Walt discovers that the mattress is filled with illegal plumage being smuggled into town to Leggett. Walt interrupts the hearing to make his charge, but the judges refuse to listen to him. They refuse to question Leggett's activities, but offer to issue a warrant on Cottonmouth, if Walt is willing to bring the man in. Feeling defeated, Walt prepares to quit, but Howard talks him into standing up to the authorities and the lawbreakers. Knowing the dangers he faces, he makes a brief farewell to Naomi, then travels into the swampland where he is captured and taken to Cottonmouth's camptown.
A brewing storm prompts Cottonmouth to delay killing him. Instead, Cottonmouth offers him a rough hospitality of some of the "sweet tastin' joys of this world," liquor and gators' tail to eat. A party atmosphere develops and Walt, emboldened by liquor and the knowledge of his impending death, complains to the men that rookeries are being destroyed for fast money. Cottonmouth, who was born and reared in the swamps, argues that they eat the birds, the birds eat the fish and someday, when he dies, the animals will eat him. He says that their law in the swamp is "eat or be `et." When Walt insists that Cottonmouth's balance of nature philosophy is no longer in force, the latter jokingly considers keeping Walt around for the talk. Then, Walt surprises them by singing one of their songs, prompting Cottonmouth to joke that Walt is "joining" them.
As the evening continues, Walt and Cottonmouth realize that they both "protest" civilization. The next morning, when Walt awakens with a hangover, Cottonmouth asks if he is a gambler. Walt's answer, that "who else would take his job?" amuses Cottonmouth, who makes him an offer: If Walt can get him back to town alive, without a guide and without Cottonmouth helping except to "pole" the boat, he will accept the legal punishment given to him. Of course, Cottonmouth promises he will kill Walt if he gets the chance. Walt accepts, but that night, finds he dare not fall asleep and, the next morning, Cottonmouth tries to confuse Walt about the direction to take. Exhausted, Walt, mistakes a root for a snake and shoots at it. Thinking Walt was aiming at him, Cottonmouth hits him with a pole, injuring Walt's shoulder. Upon realizing his mistake, Cottonmouth admits that he is "bone sorry" and helps him to a safe place. Believing that Cottonmouth has "won," Walt mourns that people cannot see and enjoy the beauty of the area and points out the sunlight on the wings of the birds. Cottonmouth admits that he cannot understand the trouble Walt has taken for the birds, but, allowing that Walt, like himself, "feels gut deep about living," plans to take him into Miami for medical care. However, Cottonmouth is then bitten by a cottonmouth snake and remarks that he will be the first of them to die from "natural causes."
Although Walt tries to administer first aid, Cottonmouth says that the poison is already in his blood, gives him directions to town and bellows at his new-found friend to leave him there. Walt sets off in the boat reluctantly, as the dying Cottonmouth, looking at the birds in the sky, remarks to himself that "maybe I never had a good look at them before." Cottonmouth yells to the swamps to take him, and Walt hears those dying words as he sadly travels homeward.
Gypsy Rose Lee
Howard I. Smith
Justin P. Havel
Charles Maguire Jr.
Dr. Charlton Tebeau
Wind Across the Everglades
This last (and no doubt smallest) subgroup has a lot of ammunition, in the form of detailed information about the production of the film that has surfaced in three books: Bernard Eisenschitz's Nicholas Ray: An American Journey, Christopher Plummer's In Spite of Myself: A Memoir, and Patrick McGilligan's just-published Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director. Of these books, Eisenschitz's is by far the most sympathetic to Ray and the only one that makes a case for the quality of his work on Everglades. Eisenschitz writes: "The way in which the scenes are handled leaves no doubt as to their inspiration: a weft of relationships between characters, a musical rhythm on several occasions reinforced by blues or ballads (very cruelly mutilated in the editing) which play a dramatic role."
Yet Eisenschitz's book, because of its extensive use of testimony from people who worked on the film, also contains some of the most damning evidence against Ray. In late 1957, when production started on Everglades, the man who only two years earlier had established himself as a major Hollywood director with the success of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) appeared to be in full battle with a number of personal demons, and, in the eyes of some of his collaborators, the demons were winning. Budd Schulberg, who in addition to writing the script was co-producer of the film (with his brother, Stuart), saw the first sign of Ray's disorder in the North African girlfriend, Manon, he brought with him to Florida for the all-location shoot. At an early meeting with Ray about the project, Schulberg recalled, Manon "came out of the bedroom just in a bra and flopped in his lap." Schulberg fretted that this unconventional girl would upset the people of Everglades City, the "extremely closed little community" that served as the location headquarters for the production. During production, Manon would make three dramatic suicide attempts and crash her car into Ray's cabin while the director was inside.
Schulberg also noticed early on that Ray "was under the influence, I didn't know of what... I thought it was just drinking; but a few days before principal photography, I realized that it was more than just drink." Visitors to the set who were experienced in such matters warned Schulberg that Ray appeared to be on heroin.
The cast of the film was a remarkable collection of professional actors and people known for work in other fields. Burl Ives played Cottonmouth, the leader of an unruly band of outcasts who live in the Everglades and support themselves by killing exotic birds and selling their feathers illegally in Miami. Making his second film, Christopher Plummer (replacing Ben Gazzara, who dropped out at the last minute before production) played Murdock, an idealistic Audubon Society representative who goes up against Cottonmouth to try to stop the slaughter of rare species. Smaller parts were played by boxer Tony Galento, famed clown Emmett Kelly, writer MacKinlay Kantor, and stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Peter Falk made his film debut as one of Cottonmouth's gang, and another newcomer, Chana Eden, was cast as a Jewish girl who becomes Murdock's lover.
From the start of production, Ray had a bad relationship with Plummer, whom he soon gave up directing. Plummer admitted in his autobiography that the director "was fed up with my own inexperience as a film actor and my sheer arrogance and intolerance toward him." Before one scene, Ray took the actor off the set for a walk. "We must have traveled at least four hundred yards in utter silence," Plummer remembered, "before he finally stopped, turned to me, and said, 'See what I mean?' Things were getting a little scary." Meanwhile, Schulberg resented, and resisted, Ray's attempts to change the script. Ray, long known for being incommunicative about his own thoughts and intentions, baffled his crew by taking scenes from multiple setups with the camera position varying only slightly. There was much drinking on the set, and not limited to the director ("Everybody was drunk!" recalled actor George Voskovec). The production was further hampered by bad weather and by the Schulberg brothers' inexperience as producers.
On the 58th day of filming, January 13, 1958, Ray and Budd Schulberg got into an open dispute on the set when an argument arose over whether a shot Ray had ordered would break screen continuity. In Schulberg's view, the director was now "in very bad shape, not really coherent,... incapable of continuing to work." Schulberg decided that Ray would have to go and that he would finish directing the film himself. Plummer, who was not in the scene in question, recalled merely that after Manon's attack on his cabin with the car, Ray, "badly shaken, did not report for duty with much regularity, so a few days later he was dismissed." The scenes that still remained to be shot were those at the end of the film, in which Murdock and Cottonmouth set off alone together in a rowboat in a perverse duel to the death. "After Nick Ray left," said Burl Ives, "there was no director at all; everybody directed, you know... the first assistant [Charles Maguire] directed, some of the writers directed, actors directed. It was... not a happy experience, no."
Wind Across the Everglades was edited without Ray's involvement. The editing drastically reduced the material Ray had shot, eliminating many scenes and patching together the rest in a choppy way that unintentionally emphasizes the chaotic conditions of the shooting. Among the missing scenes, Ray particularly regretted a scene he had invented and added to the script, in which Murdock and his girlfriend, walking together through town on the Fourth of July in search of somewhere they can be alone together, unexpectedly encounter Cottonmouth, who has brought his son in from the Glades for medical treatment. As Ray later described the scene, "When the two men meet on the street, silently, they appreciate each other's desire for aloneness and walk in opposite directions. It was a beautiful scene, and why the hell they cut it I'll never... Maybe because Budd hadn't written it."
Uneven, mutilated, with a final section that is obviously, and damagingly, shot and acted in a manner different from the rest of the film (although the sequence resonates with other Ray films thematically, notably Bitter Victory  and The Savage Innocents ), Wind Across the Everglades carries Ray's unmistakable stamp. The broken, abrupt, fragmented quality of the images and movements develops the style Ray had been pursuing and refining throughout his career. The astonishing sequence late in the film in which, in the middle of a wild storm, Murdock finds himself the prisoner and the drinking partner of the feather pirates, is one of the greatest scenes in any Ray film. The documentation of the strange and little-known subculture of the Everglades outlaws and the use of folk music in several scenes point directly to Ray's life-long interests and predilections. The handling of the relationship between the two central male characters is right in the center of Ray's thematic universe: like Jim (James Dean) and Buzz (Corey Allen) in Rebel Without a Cause, Murdock and Cottonmouth discover, in mid-battle, that they like and respect each other. The two men form a dynamic pair of fateful opposites in a way that recalls Jeff (Robert Mitchum) and Wes (Arthur Kennedy) in The Lusty Men (1952), Matt (James Cagney) and Davey (John Derek) in Run for Cover (1955), and Leith (Richard Burton) and Brand (Curt Jurgens) in Bitter Victory.
For those who care about Ray, Wind Across the Everglades is an extraordinary work: deeply flawed, but no less deeply marked by the visual brilliance of the director and his bleak but humane and lucid view of character and relationships.
Producer: Stuart Schulberg
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Budd Schulberg
Cinematography: Joseph Brun
Film Editing: Georges Klotz, Joseph Zigman
Art Direction: Richard Sylbert
Cast: Christopher Plummer (Walt Murdock), Burl Ives (Cottonmouth), Chana Eden (Naomi), Gypsy Rose Lee (Mrs. Bradford), George Voskovec (Nathanson), Curt Conway (Perfesser), Tony Galento (Beef), Sammy Renick (Loser), Peter Falk (Writer).
by Chris Fujiwara
Wind Across the Everglades
Director Nicholas Ray was fired before the end of shooting by writer/producer Budd Schulberg. Schulberg finished directing the movie and supervised the editing, discarding a lot of Ray's original footage.
The working titles of the film were Across the Everglades and Lost Man's River. The opening title reads "Budd Schulberg's Wind Across the Everglades." Voice-over narration after the opening credits states that, at the turn of the century, birds were illegally slaughtered for the fashion industry from the Gulf to the Atlantic, and that the Audubon Society fought to save the tropical birds from extinction by deputizing wardens as state marshals. The names of characters George Leggett and his wife are spelled "Liggett" in some sources.
According to a January 1958 New York Times article by producer Stuart Schulberg, who had previously been in Europe for nine years making documentaries, his older brother Budd Schulberg, an author and screenwriter, got the idea for the film in the late 1940s during a fishing trip through the Everglades. In a July 25, 1958 Los Angeles Times article, Budd stated that the story was based on "an actual event-a forgotten `war' between the Audubon society and Everglades squatters." Wind Across the Everglades was the first film produced by Schulberg Productions. Budd's script was published in book form in 1958, the same year as the film.
As noted in the Los Angeles Times review, folk musician/actor Burl Ives and stage and screen actor Christopher Plummer led an "offbeat collection of supporting players." In addition to the professional actors, were novelist MacKinlay Kantor, heavyweight fighter Tony Galento, and horse-racing jockey Sammy Renick. The famous clown Emmett Kelly, who appears as one of "Cottonmouth's" men, shadow boxes during a sequence in which the other men are fighting with one another. Although, according to modern sources, some of her scenes were cut from the final film, former striptease dancer Gypsy Rose Lee, who was noted for her "prim" performances, portrays a bordello madam who scolds one of her employees for dancing too close to her partner. According to a December 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Mary Osceola, who was the daughter of a tribal chief and direct descendant of the historical Seminole leader, Chief Osceola, was cast in the film. Although her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed, she is mentioned in a modern source as having portrayed the wife of "Billy One-Arm," who was played by Cory Osceola. Cory and Mary share the same last name, but it is not known whether they were related offscreen. Although he did not appear in the film, a modern source states that Ben Gazzara was originally cast as "Walt Murdock."
The following actors were added to the cast by contemporary Hollywood Reporter news items, but their appearance in the film has not been confirmed: Minella Jiras and David and Stephen Schulberg, sons of Budd. Modern sources add Hugh Parker (Lord Harry), Thelma Smallwood, Sally Marlowe, Sandra Schulberg, the daughter of Stuart Schulberg, and Hank Simms (Narrator) to the cast. Wind Across the Everglades marked the screen debut of actor Peter Falk.
An August 1958 Daily Variety news item reported that the film was the first to be shot entirely in the Everglades. Turn-of-the-century Miami was recreated in Everglades City, an unpaved town that was located seventy-eight miles west of the real Miami. According to a January 15, 1958 Variety news item, an empty Everglades City warehouse was converted into a studio, and the film editors worked onsite. A January 1958 New York Times article by Stuart Schulberg reported that nesting plume birds were filmed at Duck Rock, an Audubon sanctuary, before principal photography began. According to a September 1958 Hollywood Citizen-News article, chickens were re-feathered to portray the rare, highly-protected snowy egrets.
Most of the songs heard in the film were performed by Cottonmouth's men, accompanied by traditional folk instruments. Because of a lengthy studio musician's strike in progress at the time of production, the score was created from the studio's library of "canned" music. According to several modern sources, many additional obstacles challenged the completion of the film. The start of production was delayed to accommodate Ives, who was scheduled for the film The Big Country (see entry above) prior to Wind Across the Everglades. Inclement weather and the consequent illnesses of both Ives and actor Plummer, who performed in wet, cold conditions, caused further delays. A subject much discussed in modern sources is the personality clashes between director Nicholas Ray and Budd Schulberg and some of the actors, and the fact that Ray did not direct the final days of shooting or do the editing. In his introduction to his published script, Budd Schulberg wrote, "When Nick Ray was forced to withdraw because of illness, [Charles] Maguire [Jr., the assistant director], [director of photography Joseph] Brun and I worked harmoniously to guide our vessel through tropical storms and safely into port."
In the viewed print, some scenes seem vague or out of context. Modern sources state that some of the filmed sequences were later cut. In the final film, the relationship between Cottonmouth and his son, "Slowboy," is barely mentioned, but in one of the excised sequences, according to a modern source, a more fatherly Cottonmouth brings the injured Slowboy into town surreptitiously for medical treatment. In that same sequence, which occurred after Walt and "Naomi" declare their love under the bandstand, the couple are heading to their house to make love and encounter the father and son. Other sequences cut from the final film revealed more about the Jewish background and progressive beliefs of the Nathansons. In sequences that were cut, Naomi, who is later described in the final film as "bold," smokes and initiates a kiss with Walt.
Versions of the script which May not have been filmed, according to a modern source, added a prologue of Walt being arrested in Boston for drunkenness and ended shortly after Cottonmouth is bitten by the snake and before he refuses Walt's offer to help and the character's last monologue.
Released in United States Fall September 1958
Released in United States September 1958
Film debut for Peter Falk.
Released in United States Fall September 1958
Released in United States September 1958