Deep Valley (1947): Negulesco’s Crime Melodrama, Starring Ida Lupino and Dane Clark

Well produced by Henry Blanke for Warner, Deep Valley is a noirish crime melodrama, directed by Jean Negulesco, based on Dan Totheroh’s novel of the same name.

It was made as a star vehicle for Ida Lupino, who plays Libby Saul, a young woman living with her (estranged) parents on an isolated farm close to the California coast.  She is used (and abused) by her parents as mediator since they no longer speak to each other.

Lone and lonely, she spends her spare time in the nearby woods with her dog Joe. She watches some convicts who are building a road nearby, taking special interest in a handsome convict, Barry Burnette (Dana Clark).

The convicts approach the farm in search of fresh water, and Mr. Saul (Henry Hull), Libby’s father, offers to sell water to them. When they turn the offer down, he gives them the water for free.

The foreman (Jack Mower) of the road workers taunts Burnette, and the latter punches his boss. Burnette is handcuffed and Libby breaks down in tears over the man’s unfortunate fate.

Jeff Barker (Wayne Morris), an engineer fresh out of the army, is invited to the farm for dinner, and Mrs. Saul (Fay Bainter, always reliable) hopes he would like her, perhaps even marry her. Libby and Barker chat, but since Libby is in love with Burnette, is told that Burnette might be sent back to San Quentin for his attack on the foreman.

Shy and insecure (she stammers), Libby refuses his invitation to go out. After the engineer leaves the farm, her father slaps Libby, and she, suffering from their hatred against each other, runs away from home.

Libby and her dog make camp in a nearby cabin, and later, during heavy rainstorm, Burnette joins her. He has escaped from prison and seek refuge. Libby, attracted to him, offers to help him get away. Burnette confesses he had been arrested for fighting while in the Navy, and also committed robbery while drunk. A man was accidentally killed, and he was convicted for manslaughter.

Libby and Burnette plan to elope to San Francisco, but she needs clothes and supplies. When she comes home she finds that her parents have reconciled. They inform her of a posse searching for Burnette.

The posse arrives to the farm while Libby is there, and Burnette comes looking for her. They hide in the barn, enjoying each other’s company. Because of Libby’s strange behavior, Mrs. Saul suspects something is wrong and confronts the couple.

Burnette and Libby run off, and when Barker tries to stop them, Burnette drives off, leaving Libby behind.  Burnette is then shot and wounded by the posse. He dies in Libby’s arms, clearing the way for a new reunion of. Libby and Barker.

The film was moderately successful at the box-office, a stepping stone for Negulesco as a director, whose next feature would be the 1948 Oscar-winning, Johnny Belinda, starring Jane Wyman.

Release date: Aug 22, 1947.

Running time: 104 Minutes

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