Saturday, April 30, 2011

River of No Return

Rory Calhoun plays a character in River of No Return that is just as sleazy as Jason in Night of the Red Dog. As Harry Weston, he’s a gambler who’s won a gold claim, and he’s desperate to reach Council City so he can file it properly. Presaging Jason by almost twenty years, he says, “All my life I’ve waited for the one big chance a man gets and this is mine.”

He takes Kay, a singer in a saloon in a mining camp, played by Marilyn Monroe, along with him. Meanwhile, Matt Calder, played by Robert Mitchum, finds Mark, the son he hasn’t seen in years, in the same mining camp where Kay has taken him under her wing, rescues him, and takes him back to his homestead where they are living happily.  Until Harry and Kay show up on an out-of-control raft on the river near the Calder farm.

After being rescued, Harry repays the kindness by stealing Matt’s rifle and horse, which leaves the others at risk of being attacked by Indians. Escaping on the raft at the last possible moment, the rest of River of No Return is about the difficulties faced by Matt, Mark, and Kay as they journey down the river, trying to make it to Council City themselves, where Matt plans to get even with Harry. One of the obstacles is an attack by a mountain lion, which looks very similar to the attack on Curry in High Lonesome Country.

Robert Mitchum as Matt is a complex character. He adds depth to the role and this film makes it clear why Mitchum was a leading man. Matt has a secret, is devoted to his son but treats his female companion shoddily. By the end of River of No Return, the three main characters have grown but Matt most of all.

Marilyn Monroe sings a few songs in River of No Return and if the film had ended when she finished the last one, it would have risen above the ordinary, but there was more after that and Otto Preminger, the director of this 1954 movie, gave it a conventional ending instead. Lasting only 91 minutes the film, while exciting, is also predictable. Bonus features include clips from several of Marilyn Monroe's movies.