Southern Comfort

This 1981 movie opens at a Louisiana National Guard staging area in 1973 where guardsmen are preparing for a weekend of training and maneuvers. Second Squad is designated as Bravo Team and it is their assignment to march through the swamp on a reconnaissance mission. Unlike today, swamps did exist back in 1973, only becoming extinct in the eighties and nineties. Now they are known by the more pleasing name of wetlands, giving them an aura of serenity and peacefulness that the word swamp did not suggest, which makes them more deserving of our protection. The National Guard was sent into a swamp in this movie, however, because the mental picture of soldiers tiptoeing through wetlands, being careful not to disturb the local flora and fauna, does not conjure up a very frightening image.

Southern Comfort is a metaphor for the Viet Nam War so it’s no coincidence that the story takes place while the war is still being fought. The movie is enjoyable even though it has a predictable plot. We don’t really get to know the characters very well with the exception of Spencer, played by Keith Carradine. The acting of Powers Boothe as Harden, the new man on the squad, is acceptable but not nearly as convincing as when he played Reverend Jim Jones in the made for television movie Guyana Tragedy-The Story of Jim Jones or as John A. Walker, Jr. in Family of Spies. Sergeant Poole is played very well by Peter Coyote but his character gets killed early in the movie. Corporal Casper, the second in command of the squad, is played by Les Lannom. This character is the gung-ho military type who believes in doing everything strictly by the book. Other members of Bravo Team are Fred Ward as Reece, Franklin Seales as Simms, T. K. Carter as Cribbs, Lewis Smith as Starkey and Carlos Brown as Bowden.

The team’s callous attitude becomes apparent early in the movie when Reece, the point man, deliberately cuts a Cajun fishing net on their march through the swamp. We also learn at the beginning of the film that the guardsmen are only issued blank ammunition for their guns, which is an indication that they’re going to run into trouble. When they reach a point of land with no apparent way to cross the bayou, they appropriate three Cajun canoes to use to cross the water. While paddling across, they notice Cajun trappers observing them from the point of land they’d just left. They taunt the trappers and finally Stuckey fires his machine gun full of blanks at them. This is when the Cajuns start fighting back.

The haunting theme music for the film is by Ry Cooder and there is also some excellent Cajun music being played at a party being held in a small village.

This film, while not for everyone, is excellent entertainment.

Cast

  • Keith Carradine-Spencer
  • Powers Boothe-Hardin
  • Fred Ward-Reece
  • Franklyn Seales-Simms
  • T.K. Carter-Cribbs
  • Lewis Smith-Stuckey
  • Les Lannom-Casper
  • Peter Coyote-Poole
  • Alan Autry-Bowden
  • Brion James-Trapper
  • Sonny Landham-Hunter
  • Allan Graf-Hunter
  • Ned Dowd-Hunter
  • Rob Ryder-Hunter
  • Greg Guirard-Cajun Couple