Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Many Rivers to Cross (1955)

The frontier comedy MANY RIVERS TO CROSS, in which Eleanor Parker relentlessly pursues Robert Taylor with marriage in mind, has a curiously recycled feel to it.

The "been there, done that" feeling starts with two of the brothers from the previous year's SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, Russ Tamblyn and Jeff Richards, appearing as Parker's brothers. And some of the sets and props, particularly the barn, look strangely familiar. (Could that well be the same one the brothers danced on? Was Parker's bedroom window possibly the same one where Jane Powell sang on her wedding night?) Multi-couple and shotgun weddings pop up, although in the case of MANY RIVERS TO CROSS they are separate events, rather than combined as at the end of SEVEN BRIDES. When post-wedding dancing starts, one expects Michael Kidd choreography to break out. And there's lots of fighting.

Someone walking into the room and seeing Jeff Richards brawling in CinemaScope, with the soundstage mountains behind him, might be forgiven for thinking for just a moment that he'd walked into a screening of SEVEN BRIDES.

Or maybe the viewer has instead walked into a frontier QUIET MAN...for there is Victor McLaglen bossing his family around, calling a time out in the middle of a fist fight, and starting yet another brawl later on.

Or...maybe it's a strangely costumed episode of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND? For there's the Professor (Russell Johnson) as one of Parker's brothers, and the Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr.) as her fiance. that Marshal Matt Dillon? Yes, in the latter part of the movie James Arness shows up on screen, too.

It's just that kind of a movie (grin). It's amusing enough, although it's somewhat more interesting keeping track of the cast members and the sets than the story, in which longsuffering Taylor puts up with women (Parker in particular) wanting to marry him and men wanting to fight him. The film is action-packed and colorful and has some pretty location shooting to balance out the soundstage sets. (I note, though, that there is some pretty obvious "day for night" shooting in more than one spot.)

However, the movie never really slows down enough to let us get to know the lead characters better. It just careens from one event to the next, straight through till the end. Towards the end one feels about as annoyed with Eleanor Parker as Robert Taylor does.

This was the third film co-starring Taylor and Parker, following ABOVE AND BEYOND and VALLEY OF THE KINGS. Rumor has it they were a romantic item for a period of time in the '50s.

Morris Ankrum, the character actor who plays the surly tavern owner, played the Assistant D.A. in I WAKE UP SCREAMING, reviewed here last Friday. Ankrum has a fascinating background. He graduated from USC Law School and then was an economics professor at UC Berkeley before becoming an actor. He had a busy acting career, spanning over three decades, with nearly 250 film and television credits to his name at IMDb. He was also affiliated with the Pasadena Playhouse for over three decades.

MANY RIVERS TO CROSS runs 92-94 minutes and was directed by Roy Rowland. Rowland's best films include OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES, THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE, and TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE.

MANY RIVERS TO CROSS has not yet been released on DVD or VHS. Vote here at TCM if you would like it to be released on DVD.

The trailer can be seen here.

Fall 2008 Update: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS is now available on DVD.


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