Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort (1981)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

We’re all familiar with the urban paranoia (’Arlington Road’) or even rural paranoia (’The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’) films, but what about swamp paranoia? That’s the focus of Walter Hill’s 1981 thriller ’Southern Comfort’, which is set in the bayous of Louisiana. The story takes place in 1973 and centers on a group of National Guardsmen who are on training maneuvers in the swamp. As if hiking through the bayou isn’t bad enough, the soldiers inadvertently enrage some local Cajuns and suddenly, a small-scale war breaks out. The Guardsmen are only armed with blanks and don’t know the mysterious terrain at all. As the attacks by the Cajuns become fiercer, dissention breaks out among the soldiers. It’s up to Hardin (Powers Boothe) and Spencer (Keith Carradine) to remain clear-headed and try to lead the confused Guardsmen to civilization and safety.

While ’Southern Comfort’ is about 20 minutes too long, and has some severe lapses in plot development, it is still a powerful and compelling thriller. This had to do with the misdirection that Hill and co-screenwriter David Giler present. The movie is essentially about the soldiers being pursued by the Cajuns, but what we really get is a tense psychological drama, where the internal arguing among the troops become more intense then the actual battle with the locals. Hill does a fine job of showing how an area as large as a bayou can be claustrophobic and the finale shows some topnotch editing. The cast also adds to the quality of ’Southern Comfort’. ’Southern Comfort’ certainly owes a debt to ’Deliverance’, but it manages to come across as a competent action/thriller which raises some serious questions about the behavior of man.

’Southern Comfort’ is part of MGM Home Entertainment’s ’Movie Time’ collection. With these value-priced titles, you usually get what you pay for. The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, and has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. The image is very sharp and clear. While little grain is present on the image, there are occasional defects in the source print, such as scratches or white dots. The colors are slightly washed out, but that’s not such a problem, since the film is dominated by olive green uniforms or black swamp trees. Overall, the video transfer is satisfactory.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the audio track. From the first moment of the film, it is evident how much ’Southern Comfort’ would have benefited from a surround sound track. The film is loaded with the ambient sounds of the swamp, and the Dolby Digital Mono track certainly doesn’t do them justice. One can only imagine how the film would have played if the viewer had felt surrounded by the swamp creatures and splashing water.