Monday, July 07, 2014

Tonight's Movie: East of the River (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Adoptive brothers end up on opposite sides of the law in EAST OF THE RIVER (1940), just released by the Warner Archive.

Joe Lorenzo (John Garfield) hasn't been able to stay on the good side of the law despite a devoted mother (Marjorie Rambeau). Joe's mother adopted his friend Nick (William Lundigan) when Nick was young, and Nick is the opposite of Joe, a college graduate who is their mother's pride.

Joe returns home after three years in a California jail, bringing along his tough, cynical girlfriend Laurie (Brenda Marshall). Joe chafes at his mother's expectations, but Laurie blossoms in a loving home, going to work in the family restaurant and gradually transferring her affections from Joe to the hardworking and honest Nick.

Garfield plays what by this point in his career was becoming his patented troubled young man who is dissatisfied with the world and can't seem to find happiness. He and Rambeau have quite a remarkable scene where she tells him off, finally sparking a needed change.

I'm a fan of Brenda Marshall and have been working on collecting and watching all her movies; that said, I acknowledge she can be an uneven actress. One of the reasons I really like EAST OF THE RIVER is she gives such a fine performance in this film. Her character transforms believably, which is all the more noteworthy given the relatively short running time. I think it might be her best role.

Plot elements in this 74-minute Warner Bros. film were clearly inspired by MGM's MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934), although screenwriter Fred Niblo Jr.'s source material is purportedly different.

As I mentioned in my 2012 post on EAST OF THE RIVER, it's an interesting bit of trivia that William Lundigan played essentially the same role in an MGM Western version of the story filmed just two years later, NORTHWEST RANGERS (1942). Lundigan played the good brother, a Mountie, with James Craig as his gambler brother and Jack Holt as their adoptive father. Lundigan is charming and eminently likeable in both films.

EAST OF THE RIVER was directed by Alfred E. Green. It was filmed by Sid Hickox.

The supporting cast includes George Tobias, Moroni Olsen, Jack LaRue, Douglas Fowley, Paul Guilfoyle, Russell Hicks, and Frank Faylen.

EAST OF THE RIVER is a well-acted, interesting film which is quite enjoyable despite -- or because of -- the familiar storyline. The Warner Archive DVD includes the trailer. As is usually the case with Warner Archive DVDs, it's a fine print.

Additional titles reviewed from the "wave" of John Garfield movies released by the Warner Archive last month: BLACKWELL'S ISLAND (1939) and DUST BE MY DESTINY (1939).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I know John Garfield didn't like these roles and felt typecast. And they didn't stretch him too much as an actor. But I love each and every one of these Warner Bros. gangster pics. This is a good one, though I think DUST BE MY DESTINY is my favorite. Garfield was severely underrated in his time...he may have been ahead of his time. What a talent.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I liked DUST BE MY DESTINY a great deal though I think I like EAST OF THE RIVER a little better. Hard to choose, isn't it?

Garfield was really excellent...and I'm prejudiced, as a William Lundigan fan, but he doesn't get enough credit for making straight arrows believable and appealing. :) The scene where he proposes to Laurie is very moving, well played by both actors.

Best wishes,

8:36 AM  
Blogger egomoi said...

It has been said elsewhere that the plot of this could be derived from Errol Flynn's Charge of the Light Brigade rather than Manhattan Melodrama, which is a childhood best friends on opposite sides of the law plot.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It was a popular type of plot in its day! It turns up in Westerns, too, such as NORTHWEST RANGERS (1942).

Best wishes,

6:30 PM  

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