"Louisiana Story," filmed in south Louisiana in 1946 and 1947 may be the most poetic industrial film ever made.
Helen van Dongen, who was film editor for the movie, called it a "ballet of the roughnecks."
The 90-minute, black and white film documented the drilling of an oil well in the wilds of south Louisiana and the reaction of a simple Cajun trapper's family to this invasion by technology.
Charlie Moore of Lafayette was reared in the area where the film was made. He recalled in a note written some years ago the cabin near Weeks Island that was a central part of the film.
"The trapper's cabin and much scenery in the movie was actually on an ancient Indian mound known to locals as 'shell bank' on the Weeks Bay side of Weeks Island," he recalled. "The cabin was the home of a fisherman/trapper known to us as Jake. It was remodeled and upgraded to make it more presentable in the movie. Jake had several boats that he would rent out and fishermen could paddle out to the bay to fish or crab. Shell bank was a popular area on weekends for folks on the island to swim, and to catch and boil crabs.
"As 12-year-old youngsters, many of us were part of this story as we grew up on the 'islands' in the swamps of Louisiana," Moore wrote. "Just after World War II ended we were told that a movie was to be made about the coming of the oil wells to south Louisiana and that 'shell bank' would be off limits while they were shooting.
"Of course, some of us would sneak down to shell bank and try to see some of the shooting."
One of the intriguing aspects of the film is that the "stars" of the movie -- if such there were -- were all local folks.
J.C. Boudreaux, who was reared on Monkey Island in Cameron Parish, played the role of the Huck Finn-like 12-year-old boy who's role was central to the film.
According to one account, director Robert Flaherty spent three months in search of the boy through whose viewpoint he would tell the story of an oil well being drilled in south Louisiana. Flaherty's wife, Frances, is said to have actually found Boudreaux when she stopped for directions at his aunt's home and saw his photograph.
Lionel LeBlanc of Abbeville played the boy's father. The official credits list "E. Bienvenu" as the boy's mother. Moore remembers her as Mrs. Alton Bienvenu of Weeks Island.
The movie premiered in Abbeville and at the Smyles Theater on Weeks Island at the same time, Moore remembers.
"Hollywood had nothing on us," he said. "The salt company back then was Myles Salt Co. and the chemical plant was Bay Chemical. The Weeks Island road from Lydia did not exist as we know it now. The only route was from Baldwin through Louisa and over the "floating road." Morton Salt acquired the island shortly thereafter.
There's a semi-famous photo of the "gala premier" in Abbeville, showing horse-drawn buggies lined up in front of the theater, but Estelle LeBlanc says they were lined up just to give an impression of how things were in the 1930s, the era portrayed in the film.
"We had plenty of automobiles in Abbeville by 1948" when the movie came out, she said. She's kept a special interest in the movie because Lionel LeBlanc was her father-in-law.
The movie would probably be called a "docudrama" today because it builds a fictional story around a real-life event. A real well, Humble's Petite Anse No. 1, was drilled during the filming and I am told that it is still producing today.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.