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Sunday, April 21, 2013

River of No Return (1954)



Dir: Otto Preminger - Cast: Robert Mitchum, Marily Monroe, Rory Calhoun, Tommy Rettig, Murvyn Vye, Douglas Spencer

It is said that the script for this movie was loosely based on Vittorio de Sica's famous neo-realistic movie Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves - 1948). In the Italian movie a father and a son scour the city of Rome in the aftermath of WWII in search of a stolen bicycle. Without his bicycle, the man won't be able to make a living in the post-War society. 

In River of no Return the premise is somewhat altered by the addition of a third character, a woman played by Marilyn Monroe. She is a singer in a gold digger's camp in Canada, and has been looking after a young boy when his father (Mitchum) was in jail. Mitchum soon gets the chance to do Marilyn a favor in return, when she and her boyfriend (Calhoun) lose control over a raft on the river near Mitchum's farm. Calhoun is a cardsharp who wants to register, as soon as possible, a gold claim he has won dishonestly in a card game, and therefore steals Mitchum's horse and rifle, leaving him and the boy behind without proper means to defend themselves against hostile Indians. Instead of departing with her fiancé, the woman decides to stay with the father and the son and the threesome begin their dangerous journey down the boisterous river on a raft, persecuted by the Indians ... 

The rugged nature of the Canadian Rocky Mountains has taken the place of a city and the quest for a stolen bike (which allows the man to make a living), has become a quest for a hearth and home: a father and a son learn to respect each other during the journey , and both learn to love and respect the woman in their company, and see her as, respectively, a wife and a mother. This may all sound a little heavy-handed for what was meant to be a light-weight romantic adventure movie, but the two stars are wonderful together and Mitchum's stoicism and Monroe's spontaneity give the film an easy-going charm. The scenery is beautiful and made even more impressive by the use of Cinemascope, but there are also several (quite distracting) scenes shot against the bluescreen. There's not too much action, but Marilyn's tight jeans offer ample compensation.

Noticing how easy-going the finished movie is, it may come as a surprise that the production was a troublesome affair. It was shot on location in Banff and Jasper National park in Canada under very difficult circumstances. The crew was confronted with heavy rains (which made the white-water rapids even more perilous to the actors and stuntmen) and lots, lots of personal problems. Marilyn brought an acting trainer to the set who was sent away by director Preminger, but Studio executive Darryl F. Zanuck sided with Marilyn in the conflict. Preminger and Monroe then only would communicate through Mitchum. Filming had to be stopped because Monroe sprained an ankle (some say she faked the injury to thwart Preminger) and after a while Mitchum turned to heavy drinking. Preminger later said it was Rettig - who plays the boy - who saved the movie: he had a very good relationship with Marilyn and he was too young to be used as a scapegoat by any of the others.

Rory Calhoun would later work with Sergio Leone on Il Colosso di Rodi, Leone's first film as a director. Leone turned to him for the role of No Name in A Fistful of Dollars after several other American actors (Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, James Coburn) had turned the offer down, but Calhoun didn't like the script.



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