ALAMO BAY D
USA (99 mi) 1985 d: Louis Malle
The film that received such negative reviews that after making two more made-for TV American documentaries they drove Louis Malle back to his native France, where his next feature would be AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (1987). In a fictionalized recreation of true events that took place around 1979 – 81, shot in the Gulf region of Rockport, Texas, 15,000 Vietnamese refugees are placed in a highly concentrated, culturally backward poor white trash region of southern Texas where they are competing for shrimp in the same regional waters as families who have lived there for generations, causing not only an unwelcome, vocal opposition to the outsiders, but open hatred and hostility, leading to racist taunts and violence. As a disgruntled Vietnam vet, young Ed Harris plays a white racist shrimper who typifies the views in his community, finding it offensive for a white girl to be seen talking to a Vietnamese, who he and others routinely call “gooks.” Amy Madigan is excellent as the daughter of an aging owner of a fish business who’s willing to employ Vietnamese shrimpers, a girl who has her eyes on Harris, but he is using her to obtain needed money for his boat, as the bank is about to reclaim it for nonpayment. When the bank finally refuses his loan and takes possession of his boat, it’s claimed by a Vietnamese family, which creates a community uproar as whites are fed up with what they perceive as anti-white government handouts.
While the subject is controversial, the way it’s handled by Malle is not, as it’s simply bad, a poorly written, overly heavy-handed melodrama without an ounce of subtlety, adding a redneck romance in the middle of a race war, with all good guys or bad guys, or people in hysteria caused by their own cultural isolation and ignorance, where we may as well have seen any bad western where innocents are placed against heavily armed bad guys. Here, the white town majority, armed to the teeth, actually turns to the Klu Klux Klan, of all things, to drive all the “gooks” out of town through a series of intimidation tactics that include constant insults, Klan rallies with burning crosses and hanging effigies, fire-bombings, shootings at the Vietnamese boats, and eventually murder. In one grandiose scene, a line of white boats sails across the harbor carrying men in Klan white sheets with rifles and guns, even women in white t-shirts saying “white power” in order to drive all the Vietnamese boats out of the water. If this wasn’t so ridiculous, it would be laughable, as the all-too predictable ending occurs.
In a town where the law is all but absent, the lone white woman (Madigan) stands up to the racist taunts, and while witnessing Harris, whose name in the film happens to be Shanh, sounding very much like Shane, try to beat a man to death, she tells him to stop. Even with a gun pointed straight at him, calling her a “Communist cunt!” he continues to mercilessly pound the man’s head into the pavement until she shoots to kill. Miraculously, like a scene out of Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and Capulets all join hands together in prayerful remorse. In an instant, all the previously absent social services arrive, ambulances, police and the sheriff, the fire department, neighbors lend a helping hand, as this woman slowly walks through the town without pity where everyone in town is there huddled together on the street and silently stares at her in a hushed state of shock. Don’t get me wrong, but despite the incendiary nature of things that did actually happen, this is one stinker of a movie, where the subject is covered much more realistically in the Robert Hillman documentary FIRE ON THE WATER (1982). Madigan and Harris were married at the time of the film, which gives their scenes together greater poignancy, and there is interesting background music by Ry Cooder that plays throughout the film.