Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Tonight's Movie: River of No Return (1954)

With Robert Mitchum's centennial this past Sunday and Rory Calhoun's birthday today, it seemed like a good week to finally pull RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954) off the shelf and watch it!

Mitchum plays Matt Calder, who farms near a gold rush town in the Pacific Northwest. Matt has just recently been reunited with his young son Mark (Tommy Rettig), for reasons revealed later in the story.

Gambler Harry Weston (Calhoun) and his wife Kay (Marilyn Monroe), a saloon singer, arrive at the Calder farm by raft, on their way down the river to file a claim for land where gold has been discovered. When Harry learns it will be all but impossible to get to the town by raft, he doesn't want to miss his chance at a fortune and steals Matt's rifle and horse, leaving Kay behind with the Calders.

Indians are on the warpath, and without any means of self-defense the Calders and Kay must jump on the raft and attempt to make the very dangerous journey to safety. Along the way, they will learn a great deal about one another.

This was a good film, anchored by Mitchum's excellent performance as Matt, who is calm, confident, and competent in any situation. He may have missed a few years with his son, but he's also a caring father who does his best to impart important lessons to Mark. The one discordant note was a scene where he attacks Kay, which didn't seem in keeping with his character or how he treated her in the rest of the movie, but it's mercifully cut short.

Rettig is a natural as the young boy, giving a fine performance. I'm a big Calhoun fan, but he's really slimy in this one, especially at the end! I'm not typically enthused about Monroe, but I thought she was just fine in this, and she also acquits herself well singing.

In addition to the cast, the movie's best attribute is its gorgeous Canadian scenery. There are great long shots of the river, as well as some good scenes with stuntmen, such as the Indians riding into the water to attack the raft.

Unfortunately these great moments are intercut with some really poor process shots which kind of ruin the overall effect. Sometimes I can appreciate process shots as relics of the movie era I love, but the contrast here between real and fake was incredibly glaring. (I was also slightly distracted pondering the improbability of a guitar surviving more than a few minutes on that raft!)

One of the things I love most about Westerns is how familiar faces turn up time and again, sometimes in the tiniest of parts. That was underscored in this film during Marilyn's final song in the saloon, when I suddenly realized that the face over her left shoulder was John Doucette. I think he had one line, when she left!

Other great character actors in the film include Arthur Shields as a priest (shades of THE QUIET MAN!), Will Wright as the man who tells Matt his son has arrived in town, and Don Beddoe as the kindly storekeeper. The cast also includes Murvyn Vye and Douglas Spencer.

RIVER OF NO RETURN was directed by Otto Preminger, not someone who's generally associated with Westerns. According to IMDb, Jean Negulesco also did uncredited work on the film. It was shot in Technicolor and CinemaScope by Joseph LaShelle. The running time is 91 minutes.

RIVER OF NO RETURN has had multiple DVD releases. It's also out on Blu-ray, VHS, and via Amazon Instant streaming.

RIVER OF NO RETURN may also turn up again in the future on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is at the TCM site.

For more on RIVER OF NO RETURN, please visit Raquel's post on the making of the movie at her blog Out of the Past, as well as her post on Leonard Maltin's interview with producer Stanley Rubin at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival.

RIVER OF NO RETURN provides solid middle-of-the-road Western entertainment. I enjoyed it and will return to it again in the future.


Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I'm so glad you finally watched this film and was really interested to hear your take on it. For some reason, perhaps I naively always view that Mitchum-Monroe scene you mentioned as something a lot tamer. Other folks have brought it up and it's definitely is what it's depicting to be but for some reason my brain always ignores it. I've seen some publicity images of Mitchum and Monroe tussling with each other which I also tend to ignore. It's funny how we do that with films we love. I liked what you said about the alternating between on location and the studio filmed shots. The raft/river scenes are not quite plausible for sure.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Raquel! I get what you're saying about that scene -- sometimes things bother me and sometimes they don't. I think it was mostly the incongruity with his character up to that point. All in all, though, I had a good time watching this -- and the music has stuck in my head! I'm looking forward to revisiting it in the future. :)

Best wishes,

9:20 AM  

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