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
Production
company
Distributed by MGM Entertainment
Release date
  • 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.

Plot[edit]

Father Mahoney (Peter Horton) is a missionary priest in the Amazon, and on occasion reports to his superior, Father O'Reilly (Charles Durning), who disapproves of his plans to save the indigenous people of the area through medicine and development. He is instead encouraged to focus on saving souls. After a final and disappointing meeting with Father O'Reilly, Father Mahoney ventures by canoe into the black waters of the Amazon only to encounter an Indian woman (Divana Brandão) living in the jungle, the same one he has seen before and who he claims continues to tempt him. Known through local folklore as a seductive spirit who can change into a river dolphin, Father Mahoney is overcome by his desire during this particular encounter and is intimate with the woman. Before leaving, he gives to her the crucifix from around his neck. On his return to the missionary that same day, Father Mahoney's boat capsizes and he is killed by an anaconda, never knowing the woman he left behind is now with child. The woman raises her son alone in the jungle where he grows up in an idyllic existence, swimming with the river dolphins. One day, the mother is discovered by a band of hunters using a motorized boat, and during a struggle she is killed. Led by Orlando Santos (Cástulo Guerra), the group of men and their murderous act are witnessed by the child in the forest. They grab the boy and toss him into the river. No longer seeing the boy, they assume he has drowned and depart. Moments mater, the river dolphins come to his rescue and take him to shore. At age six, he is left to fend for himself in the forest.

Over the years a 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. The capture of the "dolphin boy" comes to the attention of Father O'Reilly. When he sees that the boy is wearing Mahoney's crucifix he realizes that he is Mahoney's child. With great excitement that part of Mahoney has lived in, O'Reilly takes in and baptizes the boy, who does not speak or understand language. O'Reilly names him Lazaro and places him in an orphanage run by nuns. There the boy learns to speak and is befriended by an older boy called Segundo (Ajay Naidu). Father O'Reilly continues to visit Lazaro, usually taking him out for ice cream and teaching him Christian values, such as the concept of forgiveness, particularly toward the men that killed his mother.

The orphans are presented to a benefactor of the orphanage, a successful businessman who is also a candidate for governor of the province. Lazaro recognizes 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 when Lazaro impulsively takes a sharpened stake from the garden and uses it as a spear, hurling it at Santos's head in front of all of his guests. 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 is the boy from the jungle and 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 to his forest home. Lazaro reaches the banks of the river and is reunited with his childhood environment and the wild river dolphins. While walking with Segundo on a forest trail leading to his old home, Santos catches up with him, grabbing him from behind, carrying him into the river where he tries 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 on the scene and is highly conflicted as he feels he should save the drowning man in front of him whose hand is now reaching out for help, but chooses to do nothing knowing he just tried to kill Lazaro. Santos slowly drowns from his injuries. Father O'Reilly is reunited with Lazaro, but ultimately leaves him in the forest from where he came. It is not known what becomes of Segundo, but the assumption is that he returns to the city and leaves his friend in the forest. Now legendary among the people of the community, Lazaro is said to be seen at times still living in the jungle and playing with the river dolphins - while also thought to be able to turn into one himself.

The movie begins and ends through the narration of Father O'Reilly, while at confession and seeking his own forgiveness for letting a man die when he could have saved him.

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:

References[edit]

  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]