River of No Return (1954) C+
Otto Preminger made only western, “River of No Return,” in 1954, and you can see why: He has no particular interest in or understanding of this uniquely American genre, though the movie is well shot in CinemaScope.
“River of No Return” unfolds as a melodrama (with a young boy at the center) than a genuine Western, though it is set in Canada during the 19th century Gold Rush.
Robert Mitchum, then at the height of his popularity, plays farmer Matt Calder, a man released from prison after serving a sentence for shooting a man in the back to protect a friend.
He arrives in a small town to retrieve his young son, Mark (Tommy Rettig), who, in the meantime, has befriended a sultry saloon singer named Kay (Marilyn Monroe).
Matt thanks Kay for looking after Mark, but he distrusts her paramour, Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun), a shady, immoral and amoral gambler.
Matt and Mark return to their rural homestead, but when they spot Kay and Harry on a sinking raft, they rescue them. With his dubious morality, Harry does an about face, beating Mark up, and stealing his horse and gun; Kay stays behind to look after Matt.
Meanwhile, the Indians threaten to attack, and the defenseless trio decides to seek refuge by fleeing the farm and sailing down the river on a raft.
There is tension, when the son becomes disillusioned about the father’s original crime. For his part, Mark is determined to execute justice, plotting revenge against Harry.
In the end, it’s the boy who shoots, when his father about to be shot on main street–and the culture of violence is transmitted from one generation to the next.
In the very last scene, Matt goes back to the club where Kay performs, puts her on his shoulders and carries her outside into his horse and carriage. “Where are you taking me?” she asks. “Home,” Matt says.
In her 21st film, Marilyn sang four songs: “The River of No Return,” I’m Gonna File My Claim,” “One Silver Dollar,” and “Down in the Meadow,” by Ken Darby and Lionel Newman.
The movie received mixed critical response, and is not considered to be one of the star’s strongest picture—or performances.
Running time: 91 Minutes.
Directed by Otto Preminger.
Screenplay: Frank Fenton, Louis Lantz.
Released: April 30, 1954.
DVD: May 14, 2002
20th Century Fox
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