Cinerama: The River of No Return

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

The River of No Return

By Mike Derderian

An arid wind strongly blows the sails of Charon. The bulging piece of gray cloth carries the ferryman’s vessel across the stagnating water of Acheron. I gazed upon my own reflection in the carbonated water and saw nothing but a hollow man. How did I reach this far?

My mind flows with acerbic images and past memories. My exhausted lungs breathe out nothing but searing tar. With burning nostrils and chaffed lips I try to draw breath, but alas all reeks of sulphur. My mind in pain gasps for fresh summer air and my tired limbs yearn for space. “Where are we heading,” I addressed the bearded old man, who monotonously kept on pushing his putrid oar through the fiery water.

“The river of no return alloweth no one to speak so hold your tongue,” hissed a voice as old as time from behind the rotting cloak. “Oh, how far I still have to float across this cursed river of no return before I reach my purpose!” I cried out.

Alas no one knows, however, no river leads to nowhere; there is somewhere or someplace situated at the far end of the river, whether we reach it on ripples of docility or on board roaring wild waves. The question is are you welling to go there on horseback or board a raft the same way Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe had to in Otto Preminger’s 1954 River of No Return.

Cheesy is a word that would come into mind after watching this 91-minute western but the idea of Mitchum and Monroe, stuck together on a raft, heading down a river in a wild country, surrounded by blood thirsty Indians, isn’t a bad one.

The storyline wasn’t exactly Fight Club, it was your basic love entangled in revenge plot, where the down to earth man gets the bad guy’s kind-hearted woman. The over-heightened music was one of the annoying elements in the film especially that the river rapids did not appear life threatening enough.

River of No Return also stars Rory Calhoun, Murvyn Vye, Douglas Spencer and Tommy Rettig, who is best remembered as the friend of one of television’s most celebrated canine heroes “Lassie” back in 1954.

Set during the times of the gold rush, River of No Return is the story of Matt Calder (Mitchum), who after many years of separation from his family finds his son Mark Calder (Rettig). Calder was serving time in prison after shooting a man. It was in self-defense.

While picking up Mark’s belongings from the saloon, where his little boy was lodging, Matt meets with Kate (Monroe), a gentle saloon singer. Kate immediately expresses her revulsion from the behavior of Matt and how he left his son alone in an ill reputed saloon.

Seeking a new life as father and son they both head out to the wild, where Matt has a cabin and earns his living as a farmer. Kate in the meantime has her own dreams of leaving behind a life mostly spent in the gutter.

She is engaged to Harry Weston (Calhoun), who is a two time cheating gambler with nothing but gold in his mind. After cheating a gold mine from its rightful owner in a game of cars he asks Kay to accompany him.

How did she end on a raft? There were no horses available in town so Harry came up with the crazy idea of going down the river using a raft. On their way their raft gets stuck in the strong rapids of the river and they almost drown. But Matt saves them, however, instead of thanking the man Harry steals Matt’s rifle and horse and breaks out, leaving all three unarmed, defenseless and a prey for Red Indians.

Monroe might have been the fuel to Mitchum’s fire but the on-screen charisma between the two was kept burning on a slow fire. It never poured out of the caldron. There is no long embrace between the hero and heroin at the end of this movie.

But the interaction between the two characters on the other hand was similar to what happens when a bar of butter slowly melts on a hot pan placed over a sizzling fire. It might be deliciously tasty but it burns your tongue.

She was snappy but he was cool and he was rude but she was spiteful. Despite of the admiration and despise on and off relationship between the two they had one thing in common and that was: They both loved Mark.

Mitchum’s characterization of Matt is too bloody cool and indifferent in a manly kind of way. I mean the sight of a veracious grizzly wouldn’t make the man flinch. I grew up watching the likes of Mitchum in many western B-movies on television that featured rouge cowboys, stubborn sheriffs and men seeking for the justice of the gun, which is still in fashion.

Such men sought justice no matter how. At worst they shot their way out of a crowded saloons, killed everyone in sight save the ladies and children and gave a damsel in distress a hard slap before violently kissing her. This was a prevalent theme back in the 1950s but in this movie you only had the third theme.

Monroe in one of her sexiest roles ever—backed by her flamy attitude and velvety voice—was a like always, a treat. Her saloon scenes, where she heartedly sang Down in the Meadow, One Silver Dollar, I’m Gonna File My Claim and The River of No Return, are the best features in this film.

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