The Rescue of Carolyn Crawford
For the first 5 minutes of watching "The Well" I was thinking I was going to hate it, the styling reminded me of an old silent movie and then in the initial moments of parental angst as Mr. & Mrs. Crawford worry about their child going missing I found myself laughing at the acting. But thankfully get past these initial misgivings and "The Well" turns into a surprisingly good movie one which with a story about a young coloured girl going missing down a well, manages to deliver a look at racial tensions in a small town and then couple it with a tense finale as the town battle to save the girl. It does have many flaws and the problem with acting raises it's ugly head far too often but there is something which is simply engrossing about the story.
When 5 year old Carolyn Crawford (Gwendolyn Laster) fails to show up to school her parents begin to panic. With little to go on Sheriff Ben Kellogg (Richard Rober) starts asking around town if anyone saw her and what comes to light is that several people saw her with a white man, Claude Packard (Harry Morgan - Dragnet) who is visiting his uncle. Soon the rumour spreads around the town that a white man kidnapped a black girl and the peaceful town turns into a hot bed of violence and racial tension. But with all this going on there is still the issue of young Carolyn Crawford who wasn't kidnapped but is stuck down the bottom of a well.
"The Well" is a movie of two halves with the first half focussing on the racial tension element of the story. It comes from young coloured girl Carolyn going missing and as a white stranger was the last person to be seen with her it puts the town on edge. We watch as when the sheriff learns this you get an element of double fear, firstly that a young girl has been taken by an older man and secondly that a white man taking a coloured girl makes it volatile. And so what follows on from there is the news spreading through the black community and tensions rise as old race issues raise their ugly head. But then you get a switch on this as an accidental confrontation between the girls upset uncle and the uncle of the white man leads to the white population becoming angry. To put it simply rumours and minor scuffles are blown out of all proportion thanks to gossip and before you know it the town is split in two as both sides fight and go on the rampage and the sheriff is forced to make a call for military police to come in.
That is just the first half, a remarkably powerful and insightful first half which highlights how bad things get when racial tensions explode. But then you get an equally powerful one as the girl is discovered stuck down a well and you have the drama of the rescue. Now I was surprised by this second half because I didn't expect it to be much more than a way to a happy ever after ending but the atmosphere which directors Leo C. Popkin and Russell Rouse deliver is first rate. You are really drawn into the danger, not only of young Carolyn stuck down the well but also of the men who try to build a parallel wider well so that they can go down and rescue her. It gets you to the edge of your seat and involved in what is going on from Mrs. Crawford numb by the drama happening around them through to one of the leaders of the racial troubles Sam Packard throwing himself into the rescue.
All of which is engrossing because this movie of two halves really draws you in to both sides of the story, showing you how bad racial tensions can get and then involving you in the drama of the rescue. But "The Well" is not perfect and often the acting is shall we say a little unconvincing, with several actors delivering lines as if they are reading them from cue cards. And to be honest it is all a little corny as whilst its heart is in the right place, showing how problems can be blown out of proportions through gossip, the way everything is sorted out feels too soft. The fact that one minute the town is literally a battleground and then the next everyone has forgotten their differences and working together is weak. And the fact that Claude Packard, the white man suspected of kidnapping Carolyn, just happens to be a miner makes for rather a false element to the ending.
But whilst there are some performances which end up feeling ropey there are also some which just add to making "The Well" surprisingly impressive. Richard Rober as Sheriff Ben Kellogg really delivers the struggled law enforcer perfectly, from the initial reaction to realising that a coloured girl could have been taken by a white man through to his struggle to keep control of a town which has exploded in racial tension. And then there is also Harry Morgan as the accused Claude Packard who delivers a sizzling performance of a man wrongly accused, angry at the allegations and even more angered by his Uncle's plans to lie their way out of it. It is these two performances which help to carry "The Well" through those moments where it starts to get too corny.
What this all boils down to is that "The Well" is a surprising movie as it manages to deliver a storyline which is full of racial tension and then the stunning atmosphere of danger as the whole town try to rescue the missing girl. It does have some major problems and whilst Richard Rober and Harry Morgan impress there are others who seem wooden as they fail to deliver the emotion of the story.