POOR WHITE TRASH. Cinema Distributors of America, 1961; originally released as Bayou by United Artists, 1957. Peter Graves, Lita Milan, Douglas Fowley, Jonathan Haze and Timothy Carey. Written by Edward I. Fessler. Directed by Harold Daniels.

   Neither sleazy exploitation nor a great movie by any standard, Poor White Trash / Bayou is nonetheless a film like no other.

   The background here is that independent filmmakers Fessler and Daniels made Bayou in 1957 and released it through United Artists to general indifference, possibly because much of the dialogue is spoken in the Cajun dialect. Or perhaps because the film sometimes loses its way veering between drama and documentary in its story of architect Peter Graves trying for a job in New Orleans.

   He doesn’t get the job, but he hooks up with lovely Cajun girl Marie (Lita Milan, who soon afterwards left the movies to marry the billionaire son of a dictator). Unfortunately Lita is lusted after by swampland big-shot Ulysses (Timothy Carey) leading to the usual drama, a fist-fight and a pat wrap-up.

   So as I say, the movie drifted into obscurity, which is okay by me if it’s okay Bayou, and there it might have remained, but in the early 1960s an outfit called Cinema Distributors of America bought it outright, added a musical prologue and some murky nude scenes using doubles, and reissued the whole thing with a salacious ad campaign under the new title. Poor White Trash it became, and it continued showing at drive-ins and grind houses into the 1970s.

   That’s the film I saw and the one I’m reviewing now. It’s not a sleazy rip off, it’s not a classic movie, but it is a unique and interesting thing, due mainly to the performance of Timothy Carey as the local bad guy, Ulysses.

   Carey dominates this thing like Lugosi dominates Dracula or Barrymore Svengali, with a bravura performance placed center stage. He bullies, he wheedles, smirks, screams and even socializes. At one point he breaks into a dance like you wouldn’t believe: shaking, kicking, scratching himself and writhing like Nicholas Cage on speed. And through it all he dominates the film with sheer force of will.

   Almost as memorable is Lita Milan, who projects a vital liveliness that her hackneyed dialogue never dampens. We also get a couple of rather startling montages, as the camera pans around a simple Catholic church while curtains flutter and wave across the image like nothing else I’ve seen before, and a sensuous cross-cut between a raging storm and a couple making love.

   Amid all this, square-jawed Peter Graves makes an appropriately cardboard hero, Douglas Fowley puts in a typical character part, and a bunch of actors I’ve never heard of provide colorful and convincing Cajun background.

   The result is the sort of thing usually called a Cult Movie, and I recommend it to anyone out there whose movie tastes run to the unusual and haunting.