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  River of No Return Riding The Rapids
Year: 1954
Director: Otto Preminger
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun, Tommy Rettig, Murvyn Vye, Douglas Spencer
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum) rides into a town that has recently been set up by the gold prospectors in the Canadian Rockies, looking for someone. He asks the preacher he meets there in passing whether he has seen a young boy hereabouts who might look lost, but the preacher cannot help, more set on saving the souls of the rowdies who populate the encampment. Matt is a farmer, which is unusual round these parts, and the boy he is looking for is his son, who he has not seen for some years. The boy, Mark (Tommy Rettig), is actually running errands for the local barman, but has made friends with a showgirl there, Kay (Marilyn Monroe), unaware of their destinies...

If there was one director who knew the advantages of the wide Cinemascope screen, it was Otto Preminger, and River of No Return, his sole western, was designed to show off the beautiful scenery that provided the film's backdrop. It didn't hurt that the stars were two of the most photogenic and charismatic of their era, ensuring that if nothing else the project appeared attractive to the eye (they each got to sing the theme song as well), but its attempts to be one of the more "adult" westerns of the fifties met with mixed results: this was no Anthony Mann production, and its message was muddled.

Once Matt has saved the boy from some undesirables shooting holes in the beer cans he is supposed to be delivering, he introduces himself and after showing him a photograph of his now-deceased mother, little Mark is pleased to have a parent again. This is a recurring theme, as not only does the boy needs a mother, but the father needs a wife, and as there's only one female with a speaking part in the film, she, we surmise, will fit the bill. Monroe's Kay epitomises that troublesome mother/whore complex, as being a showgirl she has some experience under her belt, but also is nurturing enough to take care of Mark when no one else will.

Matt takes his son back to his remote farm, promising him a rifle of his own when the crops start making him money, and he seems like a decent enough man, but as we learn he has a problematic secret in his past which he is keeping from Mark. No sooner have they settled in than they notice the Indians making smoke signals, a sinister development that sees them happy for the presence of their rifle, but next thing you know Kay and her supposed husband Harry (Rory Calhoun) are floating down the nearby river, obviously in difficulty. Matt brings them ashore, but for his help he is knocked out by Harry, who steals his horse and, yes, the rifle. Kay is shocked enough to stay behind to look after the boy and his father, but now the Indians see their chance and attack.

The only way out is to take to the raft and try their luck on the dangerous river. Preminger, never the most easygoing of directors, was determined that his cast do as much rafting as possible, but as they are usually too far away to make out in these scenes, they might as well have used stuntmen. These shots are intercut with some obvious back projection where offscreen stagehands throw buckets of water over the cast, damaging the sense of realism. Another aspect that does damage to the overall effect is the redemptive theme that has Kay forgive Matt for nearly raping her (a jarring scene) and try to persuade him to forgive Harry in turn. All very well, but considering the hoops the characters jump through to end up with a family unit by the finale, it appears that it's one rule for Matt and another for his would-be nemesis. You might not be so quick to let Matt off from his bad behaviour - that happy ending might not be too happy for Kay in the long run. Music by Cyril J. Mockridge.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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