RIVER OF NO RETURN. 20th Century Fox. Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun, Tommy Rettig. Director: Otto Preminger.


   I’ve listed only four cast members, but the opening scenes take place at a tent city swarming with prospectors, would-be prospectors, and those who prey on them, not to mention dance-hall girls and other members of the fairer sex, some innocent, others not so, and for almost all of time, their parts are so small I didn’t bother listing their names. (You can find them at IMDB if you’re so interested.)

   All we really see for the longest part of three-fourths of the film are (in remarkably the same proportion) only three of the four above.

   There are some Indians, though, and they’re howling down the trail of Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum), who’s trying to make a life for himself as a farmer; his nine-year-old son Mark (Tommy Rettig of Lassie fame); and Kay Weston (Marilyn Monroe), one of those previously mentioned dance-hall girls, complete with sequins, black net stockings, and a guitar.

   Forced onto a raft to make their escape, the trip downriver is hard and torturous. They’re without a horse or a rifle, both stolen by Kay’s no-good husband Harry, one of those previous mentioned gamblers. (This is where the perfectly cast Rory Calhoun comes in.) As a parenthetical remark, I believe that Kay says toward the end of the movie that they aren’t married yet, but once Harry files his claim on a gold mine he won in a poker game, they intend to.


   Of course close propinquity makes all the difference in the world, although the road to romance is never easy, and so it is here. In a pique of anger, Kay blurts out Matt’s secret, which causes a rift between him and his son, which makes a group of not very happy camping buddies for a while.

   A scene in which Matt cannot resist temptation and tries to kiss Kay, who is not particularly receptive at the time, comes surprisingly close to a rape scene, one that must have barely gotten by the censors.

   That Matt tosses Kay over his shoulder at the end seems to be an all-but-foregone conclusion throughout the movie, but if it were filmed today, I don’t think that scene would be included – unless for a comic effect that would otherwise not be called for.


   As for the two stars, Marilyn I don’t believe was ever lovelier, and nothing I could say could be more direct or emphatic than that. She may even have done her own singing in this movie, but I am kind of doubtful about the guitar playing.

   Robert Mitchum plays himself and second fiddle very nicely, in a role of a new father (to a son he’s only learning to know) in which he’s almost perfect, but not quite.

   As to the future to this new family (hopefully not giving too much away), some viewers may wonder how easily Kay may adjust to her new life. I suppose answering this question might have paved the way for another movie, a sequel, but on the other hand, why spoil the ending of this one?

PostScript.   I understand that the making of this movie was not easy, to say the least. Preferring to concentrate on the end results, I didn’t go into any of that in my comments above. I thought I should add this short paragraph here at the end, though, just so that you’d know I wasn’t totally unaware of the real world.

[UPDATE] 12-22-08.  There’s one thing I forgot to mention. The movie was filmed in CinemaScope or the equivalent, but the Cinemax channel that I taped it from definitely did not show a wide-screen version. Every so often, and too often as far as I was concerned, all we see of two people talking to each other in the same shot are their noses — and a wide expanse of countryside in between, or a close-up shot of a piano player busily working away behind them.

   I’ve just ordered what ought to be a much improved version on DVD from Amazon. Countrysides are nice, and the piano player is really quite terrific, but I’d really prefer to see the primary actors.