Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Movies I Love: River Of No Return

RIVER OF NO RETURN is a western I can watch anytime - though it is hardly a Western at all, more of a Canadian ... filmed in Canada in 1954, that magic year for me - by Otto Preminger it moves along at a cracking pace, Monroe and Mitchum are great together - just like Mitch and Deborah Kerr in that 1957 John Huston classic HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON - another great Fox Scope movie (and another Movie I Love - see Mitchum label). (Apparantly Mitchum had been in the army with MM's first husband, and had seen photos of the young starlet then ...) - actually MR ALLISON is about a marine and a nun in the wilderness (or a remote tropical island), so it shares similarities with this - there they catch that unfortunate turtle, here it is a moose; plus are holed up in a cave with marauders on the loose ..
1954 was that year I began going to the movies when about 8 - JOHNNY GUITAR, DRUM BEAT, SITTING BULL, THE COMMAND - RIVER OF NO RETURN was another western that year, while Raoul Walsh was also making SASKATCHEWAN with Alan Ladd and Shelley Winters in Canada that year. (Shelley and Marilyn had of course been room-mates at one stage...). Here Marilyn is Kay, a saloon singer who is entangled with no-good Rory Calhoun who has cheated his way to a gold mine and needs to get to Carson City to file the claim. Mitchum is the farmer who comes to the tent city after a stint in prison, looking for his son - Tommy Rettig, who is friends with Kay. Later back on the farm father and son rescue Calhoun and Kay who are going downriver on a raft - but Calhoun has his own plan and takes the farmer's horse and gun, leaving them at the mercy of marauding indians, so there is nothing for it but for father, son and Kay who has stayed behind to head down the river themselves on the raft. The Canadian wilderness (Alberta and Banff area) looks great here, and I love the music for whenever the redskins appear ... it is a great soundtrack too.

Exciting fare then, and the back projections with the raft and the stunt doubles are well done. I like the sequence where Mitch takes the frozen wet Kay to a cave, wraps her in blankets and massages her back to warmth as their warring characters begin to respond to each other as the scene melts into the shot of the warm flames. MM and Mitch spar well together and she copes well with the rough stuff. I love how Marilyn looks in 1954, here and in THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS, after that break-out year 1953 for her. Her Kay is pure peaches and cream, and she sings marvellously too. She had developed so much as an actress and performer since those early small parts in 1950 just a few years earlier ...

People tend to forget what a great vocal artist she was. When I was a teenager one of the first record albums I had was "Marilyn" the soundtrack to the 1963 compilation film Fox were quick to put out about her, and it included those songs from the film on it - the theme "River of No Return", "One Single Dollar", "Down in the Meadow" and the terrific "I'm Gonna File My Claim" which she sings in the saloon to the understandably dazed audience. This film has all those Fox Monroe touches: her costumes by Travilla, choreography by Jack Cole, and the songs with lyrics by Ken Darby and music by Lionel Newman. Preminger keeps it going well - he also did CARMEN JONES the same year in that busy decade for him before his Jean Seberg films (we also like BONJOUR TRISTESSE (see Deborah Kerr label) and he finished the decade with ANATOMY OF A MURDER, before his early 60s big hitters). So, its a fun western, an enjoyable movie I can happily re-watch any time its on - I love the bit where the redskin gets onto the raft to rip her blouse off (before being despatched) so she has to face the rapids in her camisole. It may be symbolic but why at the end does she throw her red shoes away - she is going back to the burnt out cabin in the wilderness with no proper clothes or shoes!
In the Monroe filmography RIVER though is regarded as a studio programmer she had to do in 1954, but it actually stands with the best of her Fox films and Kay is one of her best roles.

1954 - what a year for leading ladies: Marilyn's 2, Elizabeth Taylor's 4 including THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS, Ava's THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, Audrey as SABRINA, Grace in 5 films including REAR WINDOW, THE COUNTRY GIRL and GREEN FIRE, not to mention those other busy ladies like Shelley Winters, June Allyson, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons, Anne Baxter etc.... and Kay Kendall in England; and in Europe: Alida Valli in SENSO, Sophia Loren in WOMAN OF THE RIVER, Silvana Mangano in MAMBO; more at 1954 label. (By 1957 the new crop like Lee Remick, Shirley McLaine, Joanne Woodward, Eva Marie Saint and the grown-up Natalie Wood had arrived, along with those second tier names like Vera Miles, Martha Hyer, Dorothy Malone and the B-girls Rhonda Fleming, Virginia Mayo, Arlene Dahl, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget ... while Ingrid Bergman was back, and the '40s gals like Lana, Rita, Susan were pretty busy too, as indeed were the '30s lot!


  1. Have always loved River of No Return too and have seen it dozens of times. Marilyn's first husband and Mitchum actually worked together in a munitions plant and Marilyn and he knew each other casually at that time so this was a reunion of sorts. Also in one of Shelley's autobiographies she tells a story about how she joined Marilyn on location for a time with several interesting stories and observations about the experience. Bob Mitchum and Marilyn were supposed to reteam in The Misfits but he had another commitment so they went with Gable and Mitchum commented later that he regretted his refusal because around him, probably because of their shared history, she would pull herself together which she definitely wasn't able to do during that shoot.

  2. How fascinating - I never knew Mitchum had been in the frame for THE MISFITS - he would have been fitter (and younger) than GABLE too, who is very aged in it while still 59 - he (Gable) was fine in his previous one, IT STARTED IN NAPLES with Sophia Loren, probably 30 years younger than him!

    I think Marilyn also broke her leg at one stage on location here, I know there are pictures of her in crutches with a cast.