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Fox Home Entertainment presents
River of No Return (1954)

"I ransacked the town and there isn't a horse to be had for the crown jewels. But I got another idea. We can buy a raft and go to Council City on the river. You got any money?"
- Matt Weston (Rory Calhoun)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: May 07, 2002

Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, Rory Calhoun, Tommy Rettig
Other Stars: Murvyn Vye, Douglas Spencer
Director: Otto Preminger

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some adult behavior)
Run Time: 01h:30m:51s
Release Date: May 14, 2002
UPC: 024543035206
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CA-B+ C

DVD Review

Set in Northwest Canadian Indian Territory, River of No Return is an adventure tale of the gold rush days. Photographed in Technicolor and CinemaScope, the film was designed to exploit the splendors of the mountains, trees, rapid rivers and Marilyn Monroe, who was riding the crest of several successful films. It is really the people that make it memorable, rather than the fairly routine story or flawed production of the film.

Directed by the eccentric Otto Preminger, River occupies a lesser rung in his career ladder. Having distinguished himself with the 1944 thriller Laura (starring Gene Tierney, and garnering an Oscar® nomination for Best Director Oscar®), in the '50s Preminger produced and directed such films as the controversial The Moon is Blue, the all-black musicals Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess, the chilling drama The Man With the Golden Arm starring Frank Sinatra, and the Bernard Shaw version of Joan of Arc, Saint Joan. Later, he would take on more ambitious projects, like the well-regarded courtroom melodrama Anatomy of a Murder in 1959, Exodus in 1960, and Advise and Consent from 1962. Legendary back story has him as a dictatorial director who insisted that his stars in River do their own stunts, although the poorly realized rear-screen projection and long river shots make this rumor suspect.

The story has Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum) arriving in a rough-and-tumble mining camp to pick up his son Mark (Tommy Rettig), who has come to live with his estranged father following the death of his mother. The boy has met up with a singer, Kay Weston (Marilyn Monroe), who has been helping him as he has wandered the camp looking for his father. Finally finding each other, the father and son head out to Calder's farm to begin new life together. The situation is quickly upset by the arrival of Kay and her gambler husband, Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun), on a raft. They are attempting to ride the river to Council City and file a claim on a gold mine that was won in a card game under dubious circumstances. Deciding that stealing Calder's horse and rifle is a better bet for making the trip quickly, Weston does just that by knocking Calder out after getting the drop on him. Kay stays with the injured Calder and his boy when Weston leaves them defenseless. The local Indians arrive, bent on driving the settlers out, and they are forced to flee the farm on the raft.

This is somewhat of a musical adventure as Marilyn's character is a saloon singer in a mining camp and, unfortunately, looks impossibly sweet and beautiful to be what was basically a travelling prostitute. She sings four songs in the film very pleasantly, including : One Silver Dollar, I'm Gonna File My Claim (particularly scintillating), Down in the Meadow and The River of No Return. Her performance is acceptable but not particularly believable. In a period Western and a story line that requires her to do such "adventuresome" physical work, she very much seems a fish out of water. This one is destined to remain a short clip in retrospectives of her career between How to Marry a Millionaire and The Seven-Year Itch; one has to wonder what the powers-that-be at Fox were thinking (other than cashing in, I suppose). Although her scenes before leaving the mining camp show a Marilyn as attractive as she would ever be, she generally flounders in the last two-thirds of the film.

Mitchum once joked that he had three expressions and they all featuring looking in a particular direction. The actor, lionized for the economy of his acting, is particularly stingy with his technique in this outing—he gets by on one disinterested expression for this whole film!—and just fails to achieve a level of believability in his role. In 1945, Mitchum had been Lt. Walker in The Story of G.I. Joe, and received an Oscar® nomination as Best Supporting Actor. He had previously worked with Preminger on Angel Face in 1952 with Jean Simmons. After a decade at RKO, he moved to 20th Century Fox, and starred in White Witch Doctor, opposite Susan Hayward, in the year prior to River. Mitchum was to achieve a new level of stardom a year later when he took on the role as a psychotic religious fanatic who plots to murder two children in The Night of the Hunter. He also turned in an awesome performance as a vicious criminal in Cape Fear opposite Gregory Peck in 1962. Interestingly, Mitchum sang the title song for River of No Return.

Tommy Rettig plays the young boy who has come west to join his father. Another mostly unbelievable, if inoffensive performance, there seems to be an attempt to capture some of the magic that made Shane such a big success the previous year for Paramount. But the chemistry between Rettig and his adult co-stars is barely existent; he would enjoy much better success when he went on to star as Lassie's pal in four years on the television series. Rettig's troubles growing up were legendary tabloid fodder and in later life, he overcame his difficulties as a "child star" and became a successful software developer.

The one believable performance in the film is by western movie journeyman, Rory Calhoun, as the gambler husband to Monroe's singer. He at least provokes some feelings from the viewer in his dirty dealing obsession with the big score. Reported to have been discovered by Alan Ladd and signed to Fox, Calhoun later achieved fame in the TV Series The Texan and in the latter years of his career, he appeared in two of the Angel revenge movies as a character called Kit Carson.

There are many fatal flaws in River of No Return that make it a lesser effort by all involved. Still, the film is reasonably enjoyable and would certainly make for decent children's entertainment. The suspense is not too intense, nor is the violence too graphic and younger viewers would most likely not notice that the rafting scenes often look just terrible, with the actors cringing in expectation of the next bucket of cold water being thrown on them by a stagehand.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.55:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The transfer is quite remarkable in many instances and some of the scenes look fantastic. Particularly impressive scenes are Marilyn singing in the gambling tent and the awesome vistas of the Canadian Rockies. The widescreen adds much to the movie and makes it more interesting with a chance to observe Preminger's experiments with the still relatively new medium of Cinemascope. Unfortunately, the rafting sequences benefited from the blurry, scratchy versions and here look even less realistic. Some other special effects come off less well.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The disc provides a 4.0 Dolby soundtrack in English and French stereo. Both are quite sufficient and a nice technical job is done is enhancing the original stereo to something that will sound pretty good in a home theater. All the films in the Diamond Collection have shown nice efforts to properly place characters' speaking positions in the stereo spectrum and this is no exception.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Don't Bother to Knock, Monkey Business, Niagara, Let's make Love, Diamond Collection
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Restoration Comparison
  2. Still Gallery
Extras Review: Not much in the way of extras for this disc. The Still Gallery has a couple of pretty good pictures and a few really lousy ones. There is a Restoration Comparison that shows the excellent work done in restoring the quality of this film.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Not the best film by any one involved, River of No Return is even less than the sum of its parts. Still, it is a Monroe film, it is directed by Preminger and it has Robert Mitchum; so it remains an interesting curiousity of a studio era that is thankfully long gone by.


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