Where the River Runs Black

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Where the River Runs Black
Where the River Runs Black.jpg
Movie Poster
Directed by Christopher Cain
Produced by Joe Roth
Harry J. Ufland
Screenplay by Neal Jimenez &
Peter Silverman
Based on Lazaro 
by David Kendall
Starring Charles Durning
Peter Horton
Dana Delany
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Juan Ruiz Anchía
Edited by Richard Chew
Distributed by MGM Entertainment
Release dates
  • September 19, 1986 (1986-09-19)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $676,166 (USA)

Where the River Runs Black is a 1986 film directed by Christopher Cain. The screenplay was written by Neal Jimenez and Peter Silverman, based on the novel Lazaro by David Kendall.[1]

The film was entirely shot in Brazil, mostly in Belém and Rio Negro,[2] Manaus.


Father Mahoney (Peter Horton) is a missionary priest in the Amazon. He falls in love with a beautiful and mysterious Indian woman (Divana Brandão) and together they have a son. Mahoney is killed by an anaconda, leaving the Indian woman to raise their child alone. The mother herself is killed by a band of hunters led by Orlando Santos (Cástulo Guerra), and the child, now aged six, is left to fend for himself in the jungle. He lives an idyllic existence, swimming with the river dolphins.

The story of a feral child spreads through the towns along the river, and when the boy is ten he is captured and taken to town. There he comes to the attention of Father O'Reilly (Charles Durning) who was an old friend of Mahoney. When he sees that the boy has Mahoney's crucifix he realizes that he is Mahoney's child. O'Reilly baptizes the boy, who does not speak or understand language, naming him Lazaro. O'Reilly places Lazaro in an orphanage run by nuns, where the boy learns to speak and is befriended by an older boy called Segundo (Ajay Naidu). Father O'Reilly continues to visit Lazaro, taking him out for ice cream.

The orphans are presented to a benefactor of the orphanage, a successful businessman who is also a candidate for governor of the province. Lazaro recognises the benefactor as Orlando Santos, the man who killed his mother. Lazaro runs away from the orphanage, intent on finding Santos and killing him. Segundo insists on going with him. Father O'Reilly learns that Lazaro has run away and begins to search for him. Lazaro and Segundo survive by shining shoes on the streets while they search for Santos. They narrowly elude Father O'Reilly at an ice cream stand he had previously frequented with Lazaro. They follow a campaign vehicle to Santos's house, where a political fundraiser is underway. Santos is giving a speech to his guests. Lazaro takes a sharpened stake from the garden and uses it as a spear, hurling it at Santos's head. It narrowly misses. Lazaro makes his escape, but Segundo is caught by Santos's security people. Santos questions Segundo, and comes to realize that Lazaro can link him to his long-ago crime.

Santos sends Segundo to a quarry he owns to serve as an indentured laborer - and as a lure for Lazaro. Sure enough, Lazaro turns up at the quarry and helps Segundo to escape. Together they head into the jungle, intending to return to Lazaro's childhood home by the river. Santos tracks them through the jungle. Meanwhile, Father O'Reilly travels up the Amazon by boat, acting on a hunch that Lazaro might return home. Lazaro reaches the banks of the river and is about to plunge in when Santos catches up with him, grabbing him from behind, carrying him into the river and trying to drown him. But Lazaro is saved when the river dolphins he grew up with attack Santos, butting him with their snouts and causing him to drown. Father O'Reilly arrives and is reunited with Lazaro.

Principal cast[edit]

Actor Role
Charles Durning Father O'Reilly
Peter Horton Father Mahoney
Dana Delany Sister Ana
Alessandro Rabelo Lazaro (age 10)
Marcelo Rabelo Lazaro (age 6)
Ajay Naidu Segundo
Divana Brandão Eagle Woman
Cástulo Guerra Orlando Santos
Conchata Ferrell Mother Marta

Critical reception[edit]

Walter Goodman of The New York Times described it as a children's film with incredibly slow pacing:

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times enjoyed the film and rated it 3 stars out of his 4 star rating system and had praise for Cain's direction:


  1. ^ "Lazaro / David Kendall". National Library of Australia. Retrieved June 11, 2016. 
  2. ^ Wilmington, Michael (September 19, 1986). "Movie Review : Story Gets Drowned In Brazilian 'River'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  3. ^ New York Times review
  4. ^ "Where The River Runs Black :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. September 19, 1986. Retrieved 2010-09-22. 

External links[edit]