Swamp Thing 3.23: A Time of Running

“In this sequence,” director Wes Craven said, “Adrienne Barbeau falls down twice, and my daughter, who at that time was about 14 when she was watching it, turned and looked at me very sternly and said, ‘Dad, girls don’t fall down when they run.’

“And I never forgot that, you know? Especially twice. [I said], you know, yeah, you’re right, and I think after this I did a lot of films with female protagonists that were very competent.”

I like that story, partly because it’s an appealing moment of self-reflection, and partly because it’s a good example of the redemptive power of 14-year-old daughters in American life.

This question of Cable’s competence hangs heavy over Swamp Thing, and of all the script’s many problems, probably the most serious is that it can’t decide what Cable’s role should be. In attitude and demeanor, she’s definitely not the damsel in distress; she’s a no-nonsense federal agent who knows how to shoot and fight.

But she’s also in a movie called Swamp Thing, which is a complicated place to be, because the title character is both monster and hero. If the movie is called Jaws, then we don’t expect the shark to save the day, ditto Godzilla and Alien; those movies have human heroes who arrange the happy ending. In Swamp Thing, Cable has to carry all of the dramatic scenes in the first hour, and then turn the movie over to Alec for the last thirty minutes and let him do all the day-saving. It’s like if the people in Sharknado run around rescuing school buses from sharknados for the whole movie, and then at the end, the sharknado beats up all the sharks by itself and makes a bomb out of chainsaws or whatever. I don’t really remember what happened in Sharknado.

So Cable gets to fire a gun at the bad guys, but it explodes and falls apart after the first shot. She outruns a Chevy Blazer, dashing through the trees and losing her pursuers in the greenery, but then she has to stop in the middle of a dirt road and rest, so the meanies can catch up with her.

She’s achingly close to claiming the kick-ass heroine role that becomes available just a few years later in The Terminator and Aliens, but Swamp Thing is always a couple years behind where it wants to be; it’s an early-80s movie with mid-70s monster costumes and late-70s second wave feminism. Its director is two years away from fame and fortune, and its source material is two years away from changing the direction of modern comic books. This movie has a lot going for it, but all of it is just on the other side of the horizon.

As the jeep approaches, Cable turns to the left, and finds swamp water.

Then she turns to the right, and there’s swamp water in that direction too, which makes one wonder how she managed to get to this spot in the first place.

At this point, there’s nothing left for her to do but try to run in a straight line, which makes her topple over, and enrage Wes Craven’s judgmental children.

And then a tall green figure steps out of the underbrush, for a tragically stunted stunt.

This is the first moment in the movie when you can really see how badly they ran out of time. Craven had a tight shooting schedule which was rigorously enforced by the film’s completion bond company, and they lost a lot of time trying to film in a swamp with an inexperienced crew, and two actors playing Swamp Thing at the same time using costumes that fell apart when they touched the acidic swamp water. Something had to give, and here’s the first sign of how giving things got.

It’s a fantastic moment, if you get it right. The monster who lurked around and grabbed people during the first swamp battle finally stands in full view of the audience, enormous and immovable. Cable’s on the ground, about to be run over by the cackling men in the sport utility vehicle, and suddenly there he is, our valiant sharknado, standing entirely in the way.

They only had time to shoot this once, and you can tell how badly they were running behind that day, because Swamp Thing doesn’t have his face on.

The lighting sucks as usual for the film, so it’s not that noticeable, and if you’re reading this post on your phone, then this screenshot probably isn’t giving you the thousand words you might require, but that is Dick Durock’s face, painted green.

And then you don’t actually see him stop the truck; they had to cut around the actual stunt. He reaches towards the vehicle in one shot, and in the next shot he’s got his hands on it, and it bounces a little. With the screeching-tires sound effect, you get enough information to understand what just happened, but it’s not the thrilling moment that they were hoping to capture.

And the battle that ensues is a continuity nightmare. We’ve got five guys in the truck: Ferret, Bruno, two white guys with mustaches, and one Black guy with no mustache.

Swamp Thing tears the roof off the truck, which is actually a quite effective shot.

The monster picks Bruno up and throws him into the water, at which point the merc apparently disassembles into his component particles and is no longer relevant.

The Black commando appears on Swamp Thing’s right and starts shooting…

When Swamp Thing turns around, we see Ferret shooting, and the Black soldier is in an entirely different position.

Swamp Thing takes a few bullets, and then it cuts to the Black merc again, who’s back in his original position.

Behind them, one of the white mustache guys has Cable…

So Swamp Thing picks him up, and throws him several feet away into the dirt.

Ferret and the Black commando scamper away, and that’s the end of the fight. Bruno and white mustache guy #1 have apparently evaporated, and Jude won’t see any unconscious bodies when he comes along a minute from now. White mustache guy #2 has been entirely unaccounted for.

But that’s what happens when you’re on the run, with a completion bond company breathing down your neck. We live in a fallen world, at least until the 14-year-old daughters come along, and pick us back up again.

Next:
3.24: A New Friend


Footnote:

I’m informed by the Internet Movie Cars Database that Cable is chased through the woods by a 1975 Chevy Blazer, but the car that gets wrecked is a 1973 International Harvester Scout. I know, nobody cares, but I’m bringing it up because it makes me happy that the Internet Movie Cars Database exists.

Swamp Thing stepping in front of the vehicle and stopping it is a lift from a spectacular splash page in the first issue of the comic.

Also — I’m going away on a work trip for a week, so I won’t have any new posts until the last week of June. My posting schedule has been kind of erratic lately, but I’ll be able to get back to a regular schedule again after this trip. If you want to get notified when the new posts are up, you can sign up on the email list in the sidebar, or follow me on Twitter and Facebook. See you in a week!

Next:
3.24: A New Friend

Chapters

— Danny Horn

13 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.23: A Time of Running

  1. At least Cable didn’t twist an ankle. That puts her one up on Susan from early Doctor Who.

    It’s easy to see the continuity errors and lack of face mask when the action is slowed down here in the screenshots, but I’ll confess that I didn’t notice at all when watching the film itself. Isn’t there typically someone on set who acts as a continuity manager to try to catch these things between takes? But if the bond company is breathing down the crew’s neck, it probably wouldn’t matter.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Being a continuity person on this film probably was a wide awake nightmare that made some psychologist very rich in later years.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. “Isn’t there typically someone on set who acts as a continuity manager to try to catch these things between takes? ”

      Yes, that’s the very important on-set job called Script Supervisor. Their job is to have the script in front of them always while shooting occurs, mark it up during shots. And say things like “Wait a moment, that guy should still be on the left, and he still has his hands in his pockets as the scene starts. He doesn’t pickup the prop until he walks to the right.” So that the editor can freely mix and match the best shots, and the audience doesn’t have to say these things!

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Swamp Thing really is a cusp movie in so many ways–in just a little while female protagonists, makeup, effects, roles for POC, hell, comic book movies in and of themselves–will all undergo different revolutions that eventually synch up into the Disney/Marvel behemoth currently bestriding the world.

    So close you can taste it, watching the film now, with actors scrabbling in the dirt and bilocating with their faces painted green, no idea that this is the last of the rubber suits and three locations and fifty dollars a day not including room and board. Right now it’s all gas stations with sulky Coke machines, but the glowing times are coming.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. The carstopping is an example of what I call “visual logic.” You see the car moving. You see our hero standing in the road. You see the car not moving. You don’t really see the car go from moving to stopped, but your brain fills in the missing pieces.

    I just saw that phenomenon on TV. Along with another I call “Speak of the Devil” (should be self-explanatory). Both are editing tricks.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I agree with Ralph. Not showing Swamp Thing pick up the car is a disappointment and a missed opportunity, but not a continuity mistake.

    “and makes a bomb out of chainsaws or whatever. I don’t really remember what happened in Sharknado.”

    That sounds like what if Alan Moore re-imagined Sharknado.

    “it makes me happy that the Internet Movie Cars Database exists.”

    I discovered it a few weeks ago. Got a buddy who’s a real Car Guy. I wanted to refer to exactly the right car, when I teased him about a corny old movie he likes because of the cool cars. The database instantly showed me what I needed to know. Now this is the Information Superhighway we were promised!

    It sure seems that Adrienne Barbeau could have successfully pulled off the Tough Action Chick role. The story could have had her kick the ass of the men one at a time. But when there are five of them, with a truck and weapons, in the swamp they know well from years here, that’s when she could use a big green vegetative savior.

    Even if Swamp Thing doesn’t have a fully developed frontal twig, to show that he’s happy to see her. Unlike that guy with the snake in his pocket.

    Have a nice end of the month, Danny. If you’re in the South, may all your beverage needs be helped by Magical Negroes and may your travels be free of any Evil Swamp Geniuses. I’ll look forward to your return!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. >>She’s achingly close to claiming the kick-ass heroine role that becomes available just a few years later in The Terminator and Aliens

    Kick-ass heroines were already appearing in the 1970’s in blaxploitation films, often played by Pam Grier, for example, as well as Marki Bey or Tamara Dobson.

    Further examples of kick-ass heroines could be found all over TV in the 60’s and 70’s: Honey West, Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, etc.

    The concept can also be found in serials of the 1940’s and 1950’s: Panther Girl of the Kongo; the Nyoka series. You can trace the concept back even further to Pearl White in the 1910’s.

    Perhaps kick-ass heroines became even more commonplace

    >> just a few years later in The Terminator and Aliens

    but the concept was ‘available’ long before Wes Craven had to decide whether or not Cable would be one.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I was thinking of The Avengers as I read this. I read that some of the Cathy Gale episodes had originally been written for Ian Hendry’s Dr. Keel so her dialogue was written for a man and more assertive. Since Cable was originally a male character maybe that influenced the character in the movie? I have never read the early Swamp Thing comics so I don’t know how closely Alice’s adventures duplicate the comic book’s Cable.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. I’d say there is a fairly precise comparison to be made between this movie and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The formula the Doctors Holland have discovered and the creature who emerged when Alec Holland jumped into the swamp share the role in this movie that the Ark of the Covenant plays in Raiders. Cable is analogous to Indiana Jones, and Arcane and his plug-ugly henchmen are analogous to Belloc and the Nazis.

    For the bulk of the movie, there is an inanimate object, certainly important, possibly dangerous, that various Amoral Frenchmen and grisly sadists try to get hold of, while the main character, a person who represents some kind of ill-defined authority and alternately shows impossibly high and startlingly low levels of competence in the derring-do business, opposes them.

    In the course of the action, the main character is drawn ever more deeply into a magical world in which the usual rules of logic and character development don’t apply. Raiders lampshades this growing disconnect from the world of daylight rationality with its conspicuous references to the formal conventions of 1940s movie serials and with jokes like Indy shooting the swordsman. In Swamp Thing, we just keep meeting characters and seeing scenes that make less and less sense.

    The climax comes when the main character’s resources are all exhausted, the villains appear to be triumphant, and the chief Amoral Frenchman plunges heedlessly into the dangers of the inanimate object he and his baleful associates have captured. At that moment, the inanimate object shows itself to be nothing of the sort. The Ark really is a vessel of divine power, the formula really has created a superhuman monster. The power destroys the body of the Amoral Frenchman, slaughters his fellow villains, and creates a dangerous, chaotic situation which the main character and the main character’s sidekick escape only by appearing to be dead. Cable is in fact close to dead, and Jude may actually be dead. Indy and Marian just close their eyes, but that’s still playing dead.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m surprised you didn’t comment on Alice Cable’s phone call to the CIA or whoever she works for somehow getting magically rerouted to Arcane’s car phone so he can do his impression of Ritter’s voice so he can find out where she’s at. I like this movie a lot, apparently much more than most people, but even I am left going “WTF?!?” every single time I watch that scene. I mean, how does that even happen? Did Arcane’s agents infiltrate the CIA switchboard room? How many people would Arcane have to have working at there to guarantee that whichever operator happens to answer calls that are important to him will reroute it to him?

    I’m generally forgiving of this movie’s plotting flaws, but at this point it really feels like Wes Craven was struggling to come up with a way for Arcane to discover where Cable was hiding and this was the best he could think up.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the anecdote about Craven’s daughter reacting to how Cable was portrayed in this scene.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. We’ve got five guys in the truck: Ferret, Bruno, two white guys with mustaches, and one Black guy with no mustache.

    I see six men in the truck. He’s in the back seat between the black guy and and the fifth white guy. The white guy in the 2nd row of seats doesn’t seem to have a mustache.

    Like

  9. Girls in REAL LIFE don’t fall down when they run. However, in movies and TV they consistently do just that whenever they’re in a “flee from danger” situation. Girls who can run without falling are (or were, until recently) in the minority.

    Guess it gave the guys something to do?

    Like

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