October 7, 2019  (Web Review)

Thunder Bay

Kino, 103 min., not rated, Blu-ray: $29.99

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

James Stewart and director Anthony Mann collaborated on eight films in the 1950s, including six superb, hard-edged Westerns. This 1953 adventure drama, starring Stewart as an oil wildcatter who comes to the Louisiana bayou to drill for oil in the gulf using his own unique design for an offshore oil platform, is enjoyable but easily the weakest of their films. Along with his smart-talking, unfailingly loyal partner and best friend (Dan Duryea, having fun playing a rare good guy), they stir up trouble in the shrimping community as they drop dynamite into the shrimp beds for their soundings. The script follows a familiar formula, but the subject matter–timely in the ‘50s when offshore drilling was a new technology–has aged poorly. The idea of a hero who insists that drilling for oil will be beneficial for the local community and safe for the marine ecology is hard to embrace given the oil disasters in recent decades, and Stewart’s hard-bitten performance as the obsessive driller dismissing the concerns of shrimpers only puts the disconnect in sharper relief. Joanne Dru plays the daughter of a local fishing boat owner who mistrusts the outsiders but ends up falling in love with the enemy, and Jay C. Flippen is the corporate financier who defies his company to fund their dream. Thunder Bay features a good cast and has a happy ending that defies everything we now know about the ecological dangers of offshore oil drilling, but Stewart fans will likely still enjoy this brawny film. Extras include audio commentary by film historian Toby Roan. A strong optional purchase. (S. Axmaker)