Louisiana Story, The (1948): Flaherty’s Oscar-Nominated Semi-DocumentaryTale of a Cajun Boy and his Pet Racoon (Children in Film)

Robert J. Flaherty directed The Louisiana Story, a fictionalized if fact-inspired tale, co-written by him and Frances H. Flaherty.

The Louisiana Story
Louisiana Story (1948 film poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

Although it’s been represented as a documentary, the events and characters depicted are fictional. There is no sufficient factual or educational material to warrant classification as docu-fiction.

In fact, the film was commissioned by the Standard Oil Company in order to promote drilling ventures in the Louisiana bayous.

The film deals with the adventures of a young Cajun boy and his pet raccoon, living an idyllic existence in the bayous of Louisiana.

A sub-plot involves his elderly father allowing oil company to drill for oil in the inlet that runs behind their house.

An inland barge is towed into the inlet from interconnecting waterways. Most if not all of South Louisiana swamps and inland waters without land access were explored using dredged channels and barge rigs.

The film presents the rig crew tripping pipe (oilfield operations term), changing a bit, and closing valves on the blow out preventers.

The rig crew are not actors but actual roughnecks.

The time frame is pre-OSHA, however there are serious doubts that drillers at that time allowed kids to hang out on the rig floor.

As the story progresses, the rig completes its operation and the friendly drillers depart, leaving behind a clean environment and a wealthy Cajun family.

Among the obstacles is a giant alligator, believed to have eaten the pet raccoon and which is hunted in revenge.

There is no individual or collective resistance to the incursion of the oil seekers, even after the disaster–they are portrayed as friendly humanitarians.

The boy, named in the film as Alexander Napoleon Ulysses Le Tour, in the credits is identified as “the boy,” played by Joseph Boudreaux.

The film was photographed by Richard Leacock and edited by Helen van Dongen, who also served as associate producers.

Its original release was through independent film distributor Lopert Films.

The film was shot on location in the Louisiana bayou country, using local residents for actors. However, none of the members of the Cajun family (boy, father and mother) were related, and the film does not deal with Cajun culture, the hard lives of the Cajun people, or with the mechanics of drilling for oil. The story is completely fictional.

In 1952, it was reissued by an exploitation film outfit with a new title, Cajun, on the bottom half of a double-bill with another film titled Watusi.

The film was nominated for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story Oscar in 1948.

In 1949, Virgil Thomson won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his score to the film (based on famous field tape of indigenous Cajun musicians and was performed by the Philadelphia Symphony).

Through 2021, this has remained the only Pulitzer Prize awarded for a film score.

In 1994, Louisiana Story was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The movie was also in the top 10 of the first British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound poll in 1952.

Cast

Joseph Boudreaux as The Boy
Lionel Le Blanc as His Father
E. Bienvenu as His Mother (as Mrs. E. Bienvenu)
Frank Hardy as The Driller
C.P. Guedry as The Boiler

Credits:

Directed by Robert J. Flaherty
Written by Robert J and Frances H. Flaherty
Produced by Robert J. Flaherty
Cinematography Richard Leacock
Edited by Helen van Dongen
Music by Virgil Thomson

Production company: Robert Flaherty Productions Inc. for Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey

Distributed by Lopert Films

Release date: September 28, 1948 (U.S.)

Running time: 78 minutes