“He didn’t treat me like a tramp; he treated me like a woman!”
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.
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
No; this one is only must-see for Monroe completists.