Friday, May 03, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Bend of the River (1952) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

One of my all-time favorite Westerns -- indeed, one of my favorite movies -- has just been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

That movie is BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), the second collaboration between star James Stewart and director Anthony Mann.

BEND OF THE RIVER has a well-written screenplay by Borden Chase based on the novel BEND OF THE SNAKE by Bill Gulick. It's the story of Glynn McLyntock (Stewart), a man with a violent past seeking to reform and live a new life with a group of settlers in Oregon.

McLyntock meets Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy) when he saves him from a lynch mob. Cole, like McLyntock, has a dark past. Cole is initially helpful to McLyntock, whether battling Indians or retrieving stolen supplies, but although Cole wins the love of Laura (Julie Adams), one of the settlers, he still finds himself tempted off the straight and narrow.

This is a marvelous film in every respect, with a great cast in a well-paced 91-minute story. It was a particular pleasure having the chance to see it shortly after watching Stewart and Mann's first Western, WINCHESTER '73 (1950), at this month's TCM Classic Film Festival. I wrote about the WINCHESTER '73 screening for Classic Movie Hub.

In both films Stewart plays a tough man who balances tenderness and gallantry with sadness and bitter anger. We see his affection for Laura in the ways he watches her when she's not looking; he's a man with deep, unspoken feelings who's capable of not only love but deep hurt. His "You'll be seein' me" when betrayed by a friend conveys pain but is also downright chilling.

Stewart is matched by Kennedy as a man who can't quite make up his mind what he wants and whether to be bad or good. Kennedy and Stewart have many wryly funny moments together as well as darker dramatic scenes. Watching two very similar men struggle and ultimately chart different paths is part of what makes the film so interesting.

I wouldn't have minded a few more minutes to flesh out Julie Adams' character, who goes through some interesting transitions which could have been presented with more depth. That's really my only criticism of the film.

Rock Hudson is charming in the third lead as Trey Wilson, a gambler who throws in his lot with McLyntock and Cole when trouble brews in town. He has a cute courtship of Laura's younger sister Marjie (Lori Nelson) and is delightful to have on hand.

Also in the excellent cast: Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Howard Petrie, Jack Lambert, Frances Bavier, Frank Ferguson, and Lillian Randolph. I especially enjoy the sweet relationship between Chubby Johnson as a paddlewheeler captain and Stepin Fetchit as his helper; though Fetchit at times speaks in stereotypical fashion, I find that aspect is offset by the depth of the loving friendship between Johnson and Fetchit's characters.

The movie was shot in Technicolor by Irving Glassberg, shown off nicely via Kino's attractive Blu-ray.

Extras include a typically solid commentary by Toby Roan of 50 Westerns From the 50s, who shares the background of all the players as well as some of the difficulties faced by the company shooting at remote locations in Oregon. The disc also includes the trailer, as well as five additional trailers for Westerns available from Kino Lorber.

For a bit more on this film, I wrote about seeing it at the Egyptian Theatre with star Julie Adams present in 2011, along with a more cursory post way back in 2006.

BEND OF THE RIVER is a film I go back to time and again, always finding something new to appreciate. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

2 Comments:

Blogger Vienna said...

Will be getting this blu ray soonest. Your review reminded me it is one of my favourite westerns too. Great cast.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Vienna! I'm so glad to have reminded you of this film and hope you enjoy watching it again on the Blu-ray as much as I did!

Incidentally, Kino will have another Mann-Stewart film coming out in the next few weeks, THUNDER BAY (1953).

Best wishes,
Laura

7:22 PM  

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