Director Otto Preminger's only western is a simple, frequently charming, and beautifully photographed film blessed with fine performances and great teamwork from Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe. Set during the gold rush in northwest Canada, the film opens as Mitchum arrives in a town to pick up his young son, Rettig, after having served a prison sentence...read more
Director Otto Preminger's only western is a simple, frequently charming, and beautifully photographed film blessed with fine performances and great teamwork from Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe. Set during the gold rush in northwest Canada, the film opens as Mitchum arrives in a town
to pick up his young son, Rettig, after having served a prison sentence for shooting a man in the back. In fact, Mitchum was forced to shoot to stop the man from killing Mitchum's friend, but the details of the crime have been kept from Rettig. When Mitchum shows up to claim his son, he is
introduced to Monroe, a saloon singer who has befriended the boy. Mitchum thanks her for keeping an eye on his child, but is suspicious of Monroe's boy friend, shifty gambler Calhoun. Mitchum and Rettig return to their farm, which is on the banks of a large river. One day, while the father and son
are busy about the farm, they spot Monroe and Calhoun adrift on a raft that is about to fall apart. Mitchum rescues the pair and Calhoun explains that he is in a hurry to register a gold claim he won in a game of poker. Mitchum advises caution, but the impatient Calhoun knocks Mitchum over the
head and steals the farmer's horse and rifle, abandoning Monroe, who tends to Mitchum's wounds and tries to make amends. The theft of the horse and rifle leaves the farm inhabitants defenseless against the local Indians, who are on the warpath, so Mitchum decides they will all be safer if they go
to town until the uprising blows over. Accordingly, the trio boards the raft and heads downriver. During their voyage, however, Mitchum lets it slip that he intends to get revenge against Calhoun. Angered, Monroe blurts out that Mitchum killed a man by shooting him in the back, which shocks young
Rettig, who had previously idolized his father. Disillusioned, he now refuses to believe Mitchum's explanation of the incident. As the travelers fend off Indian attacks, outlaws, and the rapids, Monroe and Mitchum begin to fall in love. When they finally arrive in town, Monroe finds Calhoun and
begs him to apologize for his behavior. Calhoun agrees, but when he sees Mitchum he produces a pistol and tries to kill him. Rettig sees the commotion from a general store across the street and impulsively uses the rifle he was examining to save his father's life. The boy is forced to shoot
Calhoun in the back, and only then understands his father's act. Angry with Monroe, Mitchum takes Rettig and leaves her to go back to her singing job. After much brooding, however, Mitchum returns to the saloon, walks up to the stage, grabs Monroe, throws her over his shoulder, and takes her back
to live on the farm with him and Rettig.
Filled with action, adventure, music, and romance, RIVER OF NO RETURN is an enjoyable, engaging little western that never fails to entertain. Mitchum and Monroe make a superb pair; it's a shame they never worked together again. Eleven-year-old Tommy Rettig turns in a mature, detailed performance,
and Rory Calhoun is also perfect as the evil gambler. Director Preminger relished the chance to use a CinemaScope lens on the lovely Canadian Rockies, and managed to balance the breathtaking scenery with the human drama quite successfully. Mitchum and Monroe got along well during filming, and
Preminger also liked Monroe, but he could not abide her acting coach, Natasha Lytess, feeling that Lytess was giving Monroe especially bad advice regarding her vocal delivery. The coach encouraged Monroe to practice a distinct articulation, destroying the naturally breathy delivery that, as
Preminger later noted, "was so much part of the unique image [Monroe] projected on the screen" (Otto Preminger, Preminger: An Autobiography). According to Preminger, however, Mitchum could usually scold Monroe into dropping the affected style, ignoring it during rehearsals but then exhorting her
to "stop that nonsense" just before Preminger's cameras rolled. Preminger also reported that Lytess upset Rettig by suggesting that he needed coaching, leading the director to bar the coach from the set. The insecure Monroe was deeply dependent on her coach, however, and since Monroe was one of
Fox's biggest stars, Lytess was later allowed back on the set through the intervention of Fox head Darryl Zanuck and at Monroe's request.
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