River of No Return Review

The Story:Matthew (Robert Mitchum) has just started to set himself up with his son, Mark (Tommy Rettig) in the plains of the North-West. Despite the current gold rush he's chosen that farming is probably the best way to feed them both. One day down the River of No Return comes Kay (Marilyn Monroe), a cabaret singer and her boyfriend Harry (Rory Calhoun) on a home made raft. Matthew saves them from drowning but Harry and Kay are now left stranded with no means of locomotion and no weapons in a dangerous area. Harry, anxious to make a gold claim at Council City, chooses to steal Matthew's rifle and horse leaving Kay behind. Unfortunately, the Native Americans attack Matthew's farm forcing the three of them to escape on the raft down the treacherous river.

Despite having the likes of Monroe and Mitchum cast as the leads, River of No Return does have some trouble taking flight with Frank Fenton's script seeming more fit for an episode of Bonanza rather than a feature length film. Add 5 full songs to that (one by Mitchum and four by Monroe) and you get the strong impression the story wasn't strong enough to last the full 90 minutes. Besides the plot, the script is miles away from the likes of Dances with the wolves - Monroe is the only woman in this film and is portrayed as completely out of touch with the "man's world" - a sentiment probably shared by Preminger given that Monroe put him through hell during the filming - the "Indians" are reduced to faceless savages out to destroy and kill, Mark's first gift is going to be a rifle of his own and Matthew seems to have a curious view of what consent means be it with claiming land in "Indian" territory ("We've cleared this land. It's ours so we're going to stay on it or under it!") or with women... Whether this is a flaw is questionable - this is probably a fair reflection of the 1870s but the film seems unwilling to dig too deep or to ask any questions of any importance either.

The casting itself is probably what made the film so memorable - Mitchum as ever is the ultimate hardened man that he could always play to perfection; Monroe, on the other hand, seems quite uncomfortable acting coming through as constantly breathless and dizzy. The rest of the cast accomplish what is required be it Rettig as Mitchum's son or Calhoun playing the slippery gambler.
Despite it's evident flaws, the film does feature some magnificent exterior photography and some good cinematography. It remains that this is probably more of a run-of-the-mill musical western rather than the classic it is sometimes seen as.

The DVD:

The image:The film was given a complete restoration as the colours had faded quite drastically over the years. The film looks incredibly good given its age - the colours seem quite close to the original Technicolor print and the print damage is kept to a minimum. The restoration seems to have been quite effective although the dissolves seem quite rough and grainy in comparison to the rest. Grain is present throughout but is not too distracting and artificating is rare. The major problem with the image quality is the scenes filmed with rear-projection: these seem quite jarring and very fake - this is not uncommon as the DVD release of North by Northwest also exhibited this problem - but the restoration team can't really be held responsible for that. Thankfully Preminger was much more fond of exteriors than the Hitch so these scenes are not too frequent. The image is also anamorphically enhanced and keeps the original 2.55:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio.

The sound:Given that this film was part of Hollywood's attempt to get people away from their TV screens, if was filmed in an extremely wide aspect ratio and also with stereophonic sound. We get the original 4.0 mix, which is however a little rough and muffled at times but remains quite effective. The mix is a tad bizarre at times with voices not necessarily coming from where one would expect them to be but that can probably be put down to the original mixer getting a bit high on this new technology.

The menus:Nothing much to write about really: just simple still menus. We do get 32 chapter stops which more than ample given the short length of the movie.

The extras: We get the original theatrical trailer from 1954 presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 - it remains quite rough and demonstrates how murky the colours of the original film probably were. Alongside this we get 20 stills from the making of the movie which are interesting given that there's some promotional and off-set photos included. Finally we get a short comparison of pre-restoration and post-restoration. This is sadly too short but allows us to appreciate the change that has been made to the film for the DVD.

Conclusions: Although this is an almost extra-free DVD, the restoration of the film is quite impressive and despite not being the best film made by either Monroe, Mitchum or Preminger, it's worth investigating just for completeness' sake.

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