River of No Return (Otto Preminger, 1954)
After doing time in jail for murdering a man in defence of another one, Matt Carkner (Robert Mitchum) takes his son Mark (Tommy Rettig) and wants to live with him in the country of hunting, fishing , and cultivating. The woman, Kay Weston (Marilyn Monroe), who was taking care of Mark is a singer/dancer that just married with Harry (Rory Calhoun), a one of a kind man embarks her on a trip that will unfortunately involve Matt and Mark.
At first, this assignment to director Otto Preminger by 20th Century Fox producer Darryl F. Zanuck was perceived as a alimentary work that would piss him off. However, when he read the script, he saw the real potential of the plot and was pleased to have box-office majors of Mitchum and Monroe. Added to that, Zanuck decided that it would be shot in a beautiful CinemaScope and with a very respectable budget.
Preminger, not primarily a Western director made great use of the long takes and superb scenery of Alberta, Canada. Even if it doesn’t really feel the genre it was set in, the Western, Preminger took many tricks of his subtle mise en scène. He focused on the elements of the script he wanted to elevate even if he had standard material his characters are genuine. Using Monroe in a role that highlights her typecast in the same time that it put her in an environment that obviously challenges her character to be in the wilderness of the nature and the rapids.
The point of view of the European director making a piece of Americana like a Western brings an aspect of observation that can be compared to Fritz Lang with his Rancho Notorious. Dividing critics but also having a cult following it. River of No Return is no stranger to that, mostly under appreciated, the small circle of its admirers is wide and demonstrate how its values are enduring as a notable work from its author.
This being the third film from Otto Preminger I’ve saw after Anatomy of a Murder and Laura, River of No Return force me to think how he represents a director like Howard Hawks or Nicholas Ray. With a personal mark on each of his films without using extravagant effects or flagrant signatures. But an omnipresent flair of metteur en scène that knows exactly how to shot a particular scene and how to tell a story without falling into pedestrian territories or driving his car into the middle of the road. A master at work, if you prefer.
River of No Return is a solid action movie/Western that involve Freudian themes and an unique cinematography.