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.