Southern Comfort came out in 1981 and was the follow-up to Walter Hill’s previous film The Long Riders, which I recently covered. The movie’s title is wonderfully ironic, as the cast find little in the way of enjoyment or warm hospitality.
The plot follows a group of national guardsmen, who are meant to be going on a routine hike through the Louisiana swamps. They come across an area that has become flooded, which they had not anticipated. To remedy the situation they take several boats off the local Cajun trappers, in order to traverse the swamp. This turns out to be an extremely unwise decision on their part. The Cajuns kill their commanding officer and then proceed to stalk the rest of the soldiers through the territory that they call home. The men begin to break down, both mentally and physically, as they fight the Cajuns and argue between themselves.
The film has a great ensemble cast, but the standouts are Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine and the tough, pugnacious Fred Ward. These three are superb, especially Boothe, who has a gravelly, menacing voice and a cold stare. Fans of classic tv show Deadwood will recognise him as sleazy saloon owner Cy Tolliver.
The movie’s setting is very atmospheric and looks like something out of a horror picture. The giant misshapen trees, filthy water and viscous mud all let you know that this is not a nice place to be. It looks genuinely difficult for the actors as they trudge through the unforgiving terrain.
The real highlight of the film is the glorious title song, provided once more by the ultra talented Ry Cooder. This was his second collaboration with Walter Hill. The song has a very simple slide riff, which proves once again that less is more. Once you hear this song you will never forget it. After the warm, fat slide washes over you, the song descends into serpentine arpeggios that really capture the mood of the film.
This movie is often compared to 1972s Deliverance. This is probably because of the similar deep-south settings and the theme of angry locals. You can make up your own mind as to which you prefer, but don’t dismiss this film as a cheap clone. It more than stands up as a great film, if you clear your mind of prejudice. It is quite a rare movie, but not too difficult to obtain if you know where to look. Seek it out and enjoy this piece of treasure.