Sunday, July 03, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Border River (1954)

One of the reasons I subscribe to Encore Westerns is that the channel shows Universal Westerns, which for the most part can't be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

BORDER RIVER is such a title, starring two particular favorites, Joel McCrea and Yvonne DeCarlo. It was recently shown on Encore as part of a day-long tribute to DeCarlo.

BORDER RIVER isn't one of the world's most memorable Westerns, but like McCrea and DeCarlo's earlier film together, THE SAN FRANCISCO STORY (1952), it's a pleasant piece of entertainment.

McCrea plays Major Clete Mattson, a Confederate soldier who arrives in Mexico planning to trade gold bars for army supplies. Mattson bargains with General Calleja (Pedro Armendariz), who rules the area called Zona Libre. Mattson also has his eye on beautiful Carmelita (DeCarlo), although the general considers her off limits to another man.

Meanwhile Mattson's every move is being shadowed by Newlund (Howard Petrie), a detective employed by the Union Army.

The film has espionage, romance, chases, and gun battles, all shot in beautiful Technicolor on location in Mexico, Utah, and along the scenic Colorado River. McCrea is smart and stalwart, DeCarlo is gorgeous, and together they're an attractive team. All in all, it's a fairly likeable little Western. The story moves at a brisk pace, wrapping up within 80 minutes.

One of the things I found interesting is that the film was so comfortable with its hero being an unrepentant Confederate soldier, straight through till the end of the story. McCrea's character isn't given much of a back story or motivation, other than he's a loyal Reb, but since McCrea has the goodwill of the audience, it works. DeCarlo's character is somewhat more fleshed out in terms of her background.

The music heard during the opening credits is quite stirring. It turns out that Henry Mancini is among those who did uncredited work on the score, although I don't know who's responsible for the opening credits. The rest of the film's music is fairly run of the mill.

The movie was directed by George Sherman and photographed by Irving Glassberg. DeCarlo's colorful gowns are by Rosemary Odell. The script is by William Sackheim and Louis Stevens, from a story by Stevens.

BORDER RIVER has been released in the U.S. on VHS. The only DVD release is a Region 2 disc from Spain.

2012 Update: BORDER RIVER is now available in the United States on Region 1 DVD as part of the Joel McCrea Westerns Collection from the TCM Vault Collection.

2014 Update: Adding a note that the TCM Vault print is absolutely gorgeous -- those who love Joel McCrea and Yvonne DeCarlo will definitely want to see it that way!


Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, the main-title to "Border River" was written by Herman Stein (one of Universal's 50's "stable" of composers)the rest of the score was written by Stein, Henry Mancini(!) and William Lava, with some "tracked" music thrown in. This info. comes courtesy of David Schechter of Monstrous Movie Music who knows all about these things!


3:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Brad! My husband, who has a great interest in film music, was going to try to find that out for me; I'll pass this on to him. He tells me that at Universal they used to just stick whoever was available a particular day to score the latest footage. (grin) I really liked that main title -- wish the rest of the film's music had been that stirring.

Best wishes,

3:52 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, that's pretty much EXACTLY what they did! There were about 4 or 5 guys who wrote everything during the 50's (Herman Stein, Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, & Irving Gertz were the "staples" and sometimes William Lava and Heinz Romeheld would "pitch in.") and what Joe Gershenson would do is "assign" each of these guys certain "scenes" of the same film and they would produce a homogenous score in a matter of days. That's why the credits always read: "Music Supervision by Joseph Gershenson." Because no one man wrote the entire thing. MMM (Monstrous Movie Music) has done TERRIFIC re-recordings of a LOT of these 50's Universal sci-fi movie's music. Check out their website if you've never heard any of them:


7:02 PM  

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