By Joe Darby
Did you happen to catch the 1982 movie “Cane River” on Turner Classic Movies last week?
Probably most missed it and that’s too bad. I watched it because I saw it listed on the TCM schedule and I was curious. It turns out it is a remarkable film with the old Romeo and Juliet theme. A young Cane River Creole man and a dark-skinned African American girl from Natchitoches fall in love and must deal with the opposition of both their families.
The story of the film itself is just as interesting as the movie’s plot. It was written and produced by Horace Jenkins, a black producer and writer who had won several Emmys for his work on television, mostly for children’s programming. “Cane River” premiered in New Orleans in 1982 but Jenkins unfortunately died not long after that. Black comedian Richard Pryor was at the premier and wanted to fund a nation-wide distribution of the film but he and Jenkins could not reach a deal before Jenkins passed away.
So the film became lost in storage until 2018, when it was resurrected by the Academy Film Archives and reintroduced in 2020. Richard Romain plays Peter Metoyer, a Creole and a descendant of the Marie Therese “Coincoin” of Melrose fame. Tommy Myrick, a New Orleans actress and director plays Maria, Peter’s love interest.
Peter is a former football star who turns down an offer to play pro because he would rather return to his roots and become a poet and writer. Richard Romain, in real life, was a former LSU football star. Romain’s whereabouts today are unknown, according to several social media posts. Maria is a tour guide at Melrose, where she meets Peter and will shortly be entering Xavier University in New Orleans, But it’s not long before they have fallen for each other. Maria’s mother is adamant that she not see Peter any longer because mom fears he will just use her and then dump her.
Peter’s father, a Creole farmer, is also opposed to the relationship. The movie is obviously on a low-budget and has a small cast. But it is still quite charming. The emotional scenes between the various family members are intense and well-acted. Much of the film is taken up by idyllic scenes of Peter and Maria enjoying each others company in various places around Cane River and Natchitoches, as well as New Orleans, while original vocal tracks play in the background.
I found Maria’s actions a little inconsistent. One minute she is obviously in love with Peter and the next she’s decrying their relationship because it will never work. In case you get to see this film I won’t spoil the ending though it does seem a little contrived. In spite of some slow spots during the movie, it is a noteworthy addition to the filmography of our region and deserves more attention than it has received.