River of No Return

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This article is about the film. For the river in Idaho, see Salmon River (Idaho).
River of No Return
River of No Return (1954) film poster.jpg
Original poster
Directed by Otto Preminger
Produced by Stanley Rubin
Written by Frank Fenton
Based on a story by Louis Lantz
Starring Robert Mitchum
Marilyn Monroe
Tommy Rettig
Rory Calhoun
Music by Cyril J. Mockridge
Cinematography Joseph LaShelle
Edited by Louis R. Loeffler
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • April 30, 1954 (1954-04-30)
Running time 91 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,195,000[1]
Box office $3,800,000[2]

River of No Return is a 1954 American Western film directed by Otto Preminger and starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe. The screenplay by Frank Fenton is based on a story by Louis Lantz, who borrowed his premise from the 1948 Italian film The Bicycle Thief.[3]

Plot[edit]

Set in the Northwestern United States in 1875, the film focuses on taciturn widower Matt Calder (Mitchum), who recently has been released from prison after serving time for killing a man while defending another one. He arrives in a tent city in search of his ten-year-old son Mark (Tommy Rettig), who was left in the care of dance hall singer Kay (Monroe) during his absence. Matt promises Mark, a virtual stranger to him, the two will enjoy a life of hunting, fishing and farming on their homestead.

Kay's fiance, gambler Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun), tells her they must go to Council City to file the deed on a gold mine he won in a poker game. They head downriver on their flimsy log raft, and when they encounter trouble in the rapids near the Calder farm, Matt and Mark rescue them. Harry offers to buy Matt's rifle and horse so as to reach Council City by land, and when Matt refuses, Harry knocks Matt unconscious and steals both. Kay chooses to stay behind to take care of Matt and Mark, and the three are stranded in the wilderness.

When hostile Indians threaten the farm, the three are forced to escape down the river on Harry's raft. That night they set up camp by the river, and Matt and Kay argue about the wisdom of pursuing Harry. Matt questions why she would choose to marry a man who had endangered a child, and she reminds him Harry never killed a man like he did. Mark overhears their discussion, and Matt is forced to reveal the truth about his past to his son, who is unable to comprehend why his father acted as he did.

As the three continue their journey, Kay comes to appreciate Matt's bravery and the tender way he cares for both her and Mark. As time passes, they are forced to deal with a series of trials and tribulations, including a mountain lion attack; prospectors Sam Benson and Dave Colby, who are pursuing Harry for stealing their gold claim; and another group of Indians.

After a difficult ride through the worst of the rapids, the three arrive in Council City and confront Harry. Harry shoots at Matt, forcing Mark to kill Harry with a rifle he is inspecting in the general store, and the boy finally understands why his father shot a man so many years before. Kay heads to the local saloon, and while she is singing there, Matt arrives to take her back to his farm with Mark.

Production[edit]

Otto Preminger was preparing for the opening of The Moon Is Blue when 20th Century Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck assigned him to direct River of No Return as part of his contract with the studio. Because of their previous experience with Westerns, producer Stanley Rubin had wanted William Wellman, Raoul Walsh, or Henry King to helm the film, and he was concerned Preminger, who he felt was better suited for film noir melodrama or sophisticated comedy, would be unable to rise to the task of directing a piece of Americana. Preminger himself had no interest in the project until he read the screenplay and saw potential in the story. He also approved of Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe, who already had been cast in the lead roles.[4]

Zanuck decided the film should be made in CinemaScope and increased the budget accordingly. Much of it would be filmed in Banff and Jasper National Parks and Lake Louise in Alberta, and Preminger and Rubin flew to the area to scout locations. During their time there, Rubin grew fond of the director and began to feel that rather than viewing it as a contractual obligation, Preminger had a real interest in making the film.[5]

Rubin scheduled twelve weeks of preproduction, during which Monroe rehearsed and recorded the musical numbers written by Ken Darby and Lionel Newman, and forty-five days for filming. The cast and crew departed for Calgary in late June 1953. From there they traveled by special train to the Banff Springs Hotel, which would serve as their base during the Canadian filming.[6]

Monroe was accompanied by Natasha Lytess, her acting coach. Preminger clashed with the woman from the very start. She insisted on taking her client aside and giving her direction contrary to that of Preminger, and she had the actress enunciating each syllable of every word of dialogue with exaggerated emphasis.[7] Preminger called Rubin in Los Angeles and insisted Lytess be banned from the set, but when the producer complied with his demand, Monroe called Zanuck directly and asserted she couldn't continue unless Lytess return. Zanuck commiserated with Preminger but, feeling Monroe was a major box office draw he couldn't afford to upset, he reinstated Lytess. Angered by the decision, Preminger directed his rage at Monroe for the rest of the production.[8][9]

During the difficult shoot, Preminger also had to contend with frequent rain, Mitchum's heavy drinking, and an injury to her ankle that kept Monroe off the set for several days and ultimately put her in a cast.[10] Young Tommy Rettig seemed to be the director's sole source of solace. He respected the boy's professionalism and appreciated the rapport he developed with Monroe, which often helped keep the actress on an even keel. When Lytess began to interfere with Rettig's performance, thereby undermining his confidence, Preminger let the cast and crew know about her behavior and was delighted to find they finally began to support him in his efforts to remove her from the set.[11][12]

In early September, filming shifted to Los Angeles for interior scenes and close-ups for a river sequence that would be filmed in a tank, since stunt people had been used in the long shots filmed on the actual rapids of the actual River of No Return, the Salmon River, south of Lewiston, Idaho, which would have been the destination, not Council City. The Salmon drops over 7,000 feet in elevation from its headwaters to its confluence as a tributary of the Snake River, hence the rapids and the nickname, which would be difficult to duplicate on film. As a side note, the Salmon is the only major river in the United States contained entirely within one state. There is a Council, Idaho, but it is in Adams County, distant from the river. Monroe was on crutches, and Preminger had to work around her as much as possible. The dailies reconfirmed Rubin's belief that Preminger had been the wrong choice for the project. He felt the director had failed to capture the Western aura, had ignored key elements in the plot, and had perfunctorily directed action sequences, leaving them looking staged and static. In several cases, studio and location shots didn't match. Despite their frequent disagreements, Preminger completed the film on September 29, on schedule and within the budget.[13]

During post-production, Preminger departed for Europe, leaving editor Louis R. Loeffler and Rubin to complete the film. Jean Negulesco was called in to film a few retakes. Preminger's experience on the film convinced him he never wanted to work as a studio employee again, and he paid Fox $150,000 to cancel the remainder of his contract.[14][15]

In later years, Monroe claimed River of No Return was her worst film, and Preminger spoke bitterly about her in numerous interviews. It wasn't until January 1980, when being interviewed for the New York Daily News, that he conceded, "She tried very hard, and when people try hard, you can't be mad at them."[16]

This movie was the first to be filmed in CinemaScope and Deluxe Color in Canada.

Cast[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times observed, "It is a toss-up whether the scenery or the adornment of Marilyn Monroe is the feature of greater attraction in River of No Return . . . The mountainous scenery is spectacular, but so, in her own way, is Miss Monroe. The patron's preference, if any, probably will depend upon which he's interested in. Certainly, scriptwriter Frank Fenton has done the best he could to arrange for a fairly equal balance of nature and Miss Monroe . . . And that should not be too lightly taken. For Director Otto Preminger has thrown all the grandeur and menace of these features upon the eye-filling CinemaScope screen. A sickening succession of rapids, churned into boiling foam, presents a display of nature's violence that cannot help but ping the patron's nerves. The raft tumbling through these rapids is quite a sight to see. And layouts of Rocky Mountain landscapes are handsome in color, too. But Mr. Mitchum's and the audience's attention is directed to Miss Monroe through frequent and liberal posing of her in full and significant views."[17]

Variety said, "The competition between scenic splendors of the Jasper and Banff National Parks and entertainment values finds the former finishing slightly ahead on merit, although there's enough rugged action and suspense moments to get the production through its footage. In between the high spots, Otto Preminger's directorial pacing is inclined to lag, so the running time seems overlong."[18]

TV Guide rated it 3½ out of four stars, calling it "a simple, frequently charming, and beautifully photographed film blessed with fine performances and great teamwork from Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe" and "an enjoyable, engaging little Western that never fails to entertain."[19]

Channel 4 called it a "patchy drama which owes more to its gorgeous scenery and musical numbers than it does to anything else . . . The plot doesn't convince, but Monroe, at the peak of her career, is more than easy on the eye . . . Despite some pretty locations and occasional tension, there's little going on. A shallow river indeed."[20]

DVD release[edit]

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the film on Region 1 DVD on May 14, 2002. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English and French and subtitles in English and Spanish.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p248
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  3. ^ Hirsch, Foster, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King. New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-41373-5, p. 202
  4. ^ Hirsch, p. 202-203
  5. ^ Hirsch, p. 203
  6. ^ Hirsch, p. 204
  7. ^ Brennan, Brian, Romancing the Rockies: Mountaineers, Missionaries, Marilyn, and More. Calgary: Fifth House 2005. ISBN 1-894856-40-6, pp. 177
  8. ^ Hirsch, p. 205
  9. ^ Preminger, Otto, Preminger: An Autobiography. New York: Doubleday 1977. ISBN 0-385-03480-6, pp. 127-128
  10. ^ Brennan,p. 178-179
  11. ^ Hirsch, p. 205
  12. ^ Preminger, p. 129
  13. ^ Hirsch, pp. 205-207
  14. ^ Hirsch, p. 207
  15. ^ Preminger, p. 132
  16. ^ Hirsch, pp. 208-209
  17. ^ New York Times review
  18. ^ Variety review
  19. ^ TV Guide review
  20. ^ Channel 4 review

External links[edit]