Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort
Walter Hill got his start in film as an assistant director on Bullitt (1968), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and Woody Allen’s screwball crime comedy Take The Money and Run (1969). He then moved on to writing screenplays for such classics as Robert Culp’s Hickey & Boggs (1972) and Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway (1972) as well as two Paul Newman vehicles: The Mackintosh Man (1973) and The Drowning Pool (1975). Hill made his directorial debut with Hard Times (1975), a gritty Depression era tale about a bare knuckle boxer starring Charles Bronson and James Coburn. You can read more about his films HERE.
Hill’s fifth film, Southern Comfort (1981) could be described as a countried version of his cult classic The Warriors (1979) since both are tales about groups of men that are put through a test of survival. This time instead of a gang from the inner city, it was some Louisiana National Guardsmen on a manuever gone bad, fighting to get out of the bayou alive when a loose cannon in the group, Stuckey (Lewis Smith) fires on some unsuspecting Cajuns, after which their squad leader (Peter Coyote) is murdered as a reprisal.
These “weekend soldiers” (played by Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward, Franklyn Seales, T.K. Carter, Les Lannom and Alan Autry) who come from different backgrounds are put through a trial by fire which has varying effects on each, testing their personal wills and moral boundaries. As the men try to make their way back to civilization, the mysterious Cajuns have made their confusing situation even worse by setting up all kinds of traps throughout the dark, murky bayou. They must also battle each other, ultimately proving that they really aren’t disciplined enough to be soldiers at all.
Southern Comfort recalls another “backwoods classic”: Deliverance (1972). Like that film, it was seen as an allegory for the Vietnam War since both deal with stories where the main characters are completely out of their natural elements and must do their best to stand up to the unruly foreign threats trying to destroy them.
The films score by Ry Cooder is a perfect atmosphere enhancer with its ‘pot o’ gumbo’ slide guitar and ominous cues. As a contrast, there’s also some really upbeat, joyous zydeco music featured in a genuine Cajun celebration sequence.