River of No Return (1954)

“He didn’t treat me like a tramp; he treated me like a woman!”

Synopsis:
A gambler (Rory Calhoun) engaged to a saloon singer (Marilyn Monroe) steals a horse and rifle belonging to a farmer (Robert Mitchum), and heads to town to stake a claim he recently won. Meanwhile, when Indians raid Mitchum’s farm, he flees with Monroe and his son (Tommy Rettig) by steering a raft down a notoriously deathly river, hoping to confront Calhoun if they make it safely to town.

Genres:

Review:
Otto Preminger’s directorial career was nothing if not highly varied, with entries ranging from noir-tinged detective flicks like Laura (1944) to somber political exposés (i.e. Advise & Consent) to the truly surreal counter-culture misfire Skidoo (1969). River of No Return was his first attempt at helming a western, and while he was purportedly pleased with the script (which was inspired by Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief), the overall production experience was less than ideal for all involved. The final product comes across as a patchily successful affair, with the benefit of a compellingly urgent storyline, and fine performances by both Tommy Rettig (of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. fame) as Mitchum’s estranged son, and Rory Calhoun as Monroe’s slippery lover. However, while the outdoor CinemaScope cinematography is stunning, much less successful is the sloppy use of rear-screen projection, which makes it patently obvious that the actors are rocking about on a sound stage rather than on the rapids themselves. Meanwhile, a disturbing near-rape scene between Mitchum and Monroe is poorly resolved, leaving a bitter taste in one’s mouth. Fortunately, the final resolution between Calhoun and Mitchum is smartly scripted, bringing the story full-circle, and leaving one feeling at least partially satisfied.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine use of Technicolor CinemaScope
  • Rory Calhoun as Harry Weston

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Monroe completists.

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One Response to “River of No Return (1954)”

  1. A once-must, strangely, for Monroe’s performance.

    It’s true that this is not a great film (for some of the reasons stated). Although certain details in the film are somewhat implausible, it works ultimately as a satisfying Western tale. It gets better as it goes along and, yes, the final segments of the film do work toward a cumulative effect that reads as good pay-off.

    I hadn’t seen it since I was quite young. It’s mainly a once-and-done kind of movie. This time out, Mitchum is restrained, quietly forceful – so it’s perhaps not among his most memorable roles, even if he is believable. Rettig handles all of the requisite kid stuff according to pattern.

    But, one has to say, Monroe pulls off something here that is different from what we expect of her. For example, just watch how she walks. She’s not doing the sex goddess vamp; she moves like a woman who has lived this existence. Even if her character is a little naive about men, Monroe is believable as a survivor and a woman of the wild.

    One has to watch this film for its build. The penultimate scene makes everything worth it. And Monroe is particularly compelling at the end when she reprises the film’s theme song. (Her delivery of it is almost achingly personal.)

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