The River (1951 film)
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|Directed by||Jean Renoir|
|Produced by||Kenneth McEldowney
|Written by||Rumer Godden (novel)
|Narrated by||June Hillman|
|Music by||M. A. Partha Sarathy|
|Edited by||George Gale|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|10 September 1951|
|Country||France / India / USA|
|Language||English / Bengali|
|Box office||$1 million (US rentals)|
A fairly faithful dramatization of an earlier literary work of the same name (The River, authored by Rumer Godden), the movie attests to a teenager's first love, and how her heart was broken when the man she fell in love with was smitten with her best friend instead.
Harriet (Patricia Walters) belongs to an upper middle-class English family residing on the banks of the Ganges River in India. Her father (Esmond Knight) runs a jute mill, and she has four sisters. Her only brother (Richard R. Foster), somewhat ten years her junior, wants to learn how to tame cobras with a flute. Although they are raised in a genteel, English setting, and even have the benefit of a live-in nanny, their upbringings bear the mark of a curious confluence of Western and Eastern philosophies. If there ever could be a compromise between Christianity and Hinduism, they are immersed in it. (The youngest girl, for instance, has a rabbit she treats as her newborn baby, and says that some babies can be born again and again.)
The tranquility of an upperclass English family lifestyle, however, takes a tumble and turns thoroughly topsy turvy when the family's neighbor invites his cousin, Captain John (Thomas E. Breen), to live with him on his plantation. When Captain John arrives, the girls discover he has lost one leg in the war. Notwithstanding his handicap, he has such an atmosphere of charm and sophistication about him that the daughters are all understandably smitten with him and therefore invite him to a Diwali celebration, complete with a formal invitation in writing, hand-delivered by the oldest daughter herself.
Harriet's otherwise uneventful life contains moments worth recording and, to invite Captain John further into her life, she eventually gains the courage to show him her secret book - her diary. He politely acquiesces in a kind and fatherly way.
Later, eager to impress upon him her familiarity with Hindu religion, or perhaps to divert his attention from her best friend, Harriet tells him a marriage story where mundane identities of ordinary peasants are subject to divine change and transformation. In this tale, Lord Krishna intervenes in a wedding ceremony to assume the identity of the groom, and a bride is temporarily transformed into Krishna's consort. The moral to the story is that things are not always as they seem, nor that what you see is what the other person necessarily sees, and that but for the intervention of Krishna, things taken at first appearance, may be elevated to something significantly different.
One day, somewhat after the festival of Diwali, Harriet secretly follows Captain John and her best friend Valerie (Adrienne Corri), to a point on the river bank where they think they are alone. It is there that Captain John trades a passionate kiss with Valerie, which Harriet witnesses. This incident, coupled with her perceived role in the death of her brother, makes Harriet lose the will to live. Preferring to die, she runs away from home that night and attempts to commit suicide by floating down the river in an unattended canoe-like skiff. The river should not be navigated at night, as there are strong currents, and two or three people are usually needed to row a boat against the current. Overcome with very high waves, an unattended boat would take on water and sink. Dying on the river, as from a boat that sinks, would certainly have the appearance of an accident, but Harriet takes things a step further by lowering herself into the water. Her death would have been a sure thing but her brother's friend has seen her steal the boat and fishermen rally to rescue her from the water. Ashore, she is brought back to life, and the captain then kisses her on the forehead. He returns her to her home.
Later in the movie, alone in a room elsewhere in the family's mansion, we discover that Captain John has a much deeper and more mature interest in Melanie (Radha Burnier), the twenty-ish, mix-blooded daughter from his cousin's marriage to an Indian national who has died. Without so much as a heated word, Captain John and Melanie appear to have reached a point where their irreconcilable differences are insurmountable. Unlike the five other girls in the movie, Melanie does not appear deluded by Captain John's bearing, and particularly on account of their culture clash finds him more overbearing and stifling than seductive. (This represents a directorial departure from the literary work the movie was based on, as the English family in the book had no admixture of blood from Indian nationals, and Melanie as a character did not exist.)
Shot in Technicolor, a five month turnaround at the lab meant things had to be done right the first time. In filming this movie, Renoir made use of nonprofessional actors in key roles, including Captain John and Harriet. The future Indian film maker Satyajit Ray, then working in advertising, met Renoir while The River was in production, and the two men became friends. Ray met Subrata Mitra, a production assistant on this film and Ray's eventual cinematographer, during filming. For the real story of the production see the obit of the producer - Los Angeles Times January 16 2004 Obituaries | PASSINGS J.K. McEldowney, 97; Florist Made Movie After Wife Dared Him
J. Kenneth McEldowney, 97, an innovative florist and real estate agent who took his wife's dare to produce a better movie, creating a classic called "The River," died Jan. 5 in his home in Burbank after a long illness.
Born in Chicago, McEldowney moved to Los Angeles as a child, studied business administration at UCLA, and created a chain of four florist shops. He built a drive-through florist shop and provided flowers for such Hollywood events as the first Academy Awards in 1929 and Jean Harlow's funeral.
When McEldowney complained to his wife, an MGM publicist, about one of her studio's films, she dared him to do better. So he sold their home and floral shops and, from 1947 to 1951, labored to produce a motion picture from British author Rumer Godden's romantic autobiographical novel set in colonial India. "The River" became the first Technicolor movie made in India.
Although McEldowney employed amateur or little-known actors, he could rely on Godden as screenwriter and legendary director Jean Renoir, son of the French impressionist painter. McEldowney's publicist wife landed magazine coverage in Life, the Saturday Evening Post and others.
The movie opened in New York with a record 34-week run at reserved-seat prices and was on several 10-best-movie lists in 1951.
McEldowney told The Times years later that his film, seen around the world, quickly made more than $16 million. But he turned to real estate and never made another movie because, he said, "I did it once. I proved my point."
Awards and responses
At the New York Film Festival, director Wes Anderson, a great fan of Jean Renoir, discussed Martin Scorsese's having shown him a print of The River; it is one of Scorsese's favourite films. The River was hugely influential upon Wes Anderson's film, The Darjeeling Limited (2007), as it inspired Anderson to make a film about India.
- 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
- Bert Cardullo (ed.) 22 Satyajit Ray: Interviews, University of Mississippi Press, 2007, p.64-65
- Faulkner, Christopher (1979). Jean Renoir, a guide to references and resources. Boston, Mass: G.K. Hall & Company. p. 31.
-  Archived May 26, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- Roger Ebert. The River (Le Fleuve) February 12, 2006
- "Scorsese’s 12 favorite films". Miramax.com. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
- "Wes Anderson & Adrien Brody: Darjeeling Limited inspirations". YouTube. 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2013-03-21.