RIVER OF NO RETURN [1954] movie review

July 28, 2013 · Print This Article

Though more of an adventure movie set in the old west, there is enough classic western in RIVER OF NO RETURN [1954] to make it yet another hidden gem find thanks to Netflix (about the only thing Netflix is useful for these days).

I know I was surprised that Marilyn Monroe (Kay) starred in this movie, a western. I never would have thought she played in such a movie. I imagine this is as rough as she has ever looked on the big screen, which is to say not very rough at all as she still (literally thanks to lighting) glows on screen even in the deep woods. She is a mesmerizing saloon girl, as one might expect, with of course a no good gambler boyfriend big on promises.

The movie opens, though, with Robert Mitchum playing a mysterious man of some fighting skill and ethics, Matt Calder. Mitchum has to be the most underrated western star. He is as good as any of the more famous leading men of westerns. Calder arrives in a boom town brought on by a gold rush looking for a young boy, his son whom he has not seen in years. Where he was during that time is a mystery.

Calder is very level headed and not caught up in the gold rush and just wants to return to being a father with his son on his isolated farm along a river. The Indians call it the River of No Return for how dangerous it is. The Indians themselves are always on cliffs giving threatening looks to all those below, including Calder and his son.

Kay’s gambler boyfriend says he won a gold mine claim but has to make it to the nearest big town to file it, easier said than done as it is rough country and no horses are available. So he, ludicrously, puts Kay and all her pretty stuff on a rickety raft and thinks he can navigate them to a fortune. They pass by Calder’s ranch looking out of control. He helps them ashore only to get thanked by having his own gun pointed at him.

Betrayed, Calder sets out on the raft with his son after the gambler, bringing along Kay too. The majority of the movie is the three of them overcoming challenges on the river, and revealing the more about each other’s character and backstory. RIVER OF NO RETURN shows this conflict between Kay and Calder amidst sexual tension and matters of honor and who each really thinks of each other in a very effective way. The movie stands out because of their shorelines.

Marilyn is as magnetic as ever on screen, just the way she walks around the campfire is not normal. Of course she remains in full makeup somehow even after days getting soaked on a river, I can forgive the movie for such a break from reality.

One scene was very out of place though, where Calder started to sexually assault Kay, seemingly out of nowhere as he had stated he only has contempt for her and showed no signs of being tempted by any vice. The situation is diffused before anything really bad happens, and it is never mentioned by either character afterwards, but it felt wrong.

The ending brings another twist, or two, concluding a very entertaining western, as strange as it may seem for Marilyn to star in one.

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