Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return (1954)


(director: Otto Preminger; screenwriters: Frank Fenton/from a story by Louis Lantz; cinematographer: Joseph La Shelle; editor: Louis Loeffler; music: Cyril J. Mockridge; cast: Marilyn Monroe (Kay Weston), Robert Mitchum (Matt Calder), Rory Calhoun (Harry Weston), Tommy Rettig (Mark Calder), Murvyn Vye (Dave Colby), Douglas Spencer (Sam Benson), Don Beddoe (Ben, general store owner); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Rubin; Fox Home Video; 1954)

“Marilyn turns in a surprisingly okay performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Otto Preminger’s (“Exodus”/”Man With The Golden Arm”/”Bunny Lake Is Missing”) only western, beautifully shot in ‘Scope and widescreen, is set in Canada (filmed in Banff National Park, in the Canadian Rockies) during the 19th century Gold Rush. It’s from a story by Louis Lantz and is written by Frank Fenton. The tyrannical director and the beautiful but insecure star actress, Marilyn Monroe, who had her obnoxious acting coach Natasha Lytess on the set over the director’s objections due to the approval of Fox head Darryl Zanuck, nevertheless got through the film with not as many problems as one would think and the two even got along well together. Marilyn turns in a surprisingly okay performance and charmingly sings a number of tunes in key. That everything turned out kosher, was due in large part to the presence of the easy-going Robert Mitchum who kept Marilyn relaxed and acting naturally instead of following the bogus advice of her teacher.

In 1875, roughneck dirt farmer Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum) returns to the Northwest after spending many years in prison for shooting a bad man in the back who was threatening to kill his friend. At the trading post town, Matt is surprised to find there’s a gold rush and it’s now a bustling tent city filled with gold prospectors, sin, troublemakers, saloons, gamblers and entertainers. Matt, whose wife died when he was in prison, meets his nine-year-old son Mark (Tommy Rettig) in this Sodom and Gomorrah place, who was brought here from Illinois by someone Matt paid $100. The father and son are strangers, but quickly bond; before going to the farm land Matt purchased outside of town the kid fondly says goodbye to sultry saloon singer Kay (Marilyn Monroe), who maternally looked after the kid while he waited for his dad.

Kay’s slimy card shark fianc√©, Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun), returns and tells her that he won a gold claim in a stud poker game and needs to hurry to Council City before the loser beats him there and accuses him of cheating. They go by raft, but coincidentally get stuck on the bank by Matt’s farm. Matt rescues them but refuses to take them to Council City or sell his horse, so Harry repays his kindness by stealing his horse, only rifle and knocking Matt unconscious by slamming him with the rifle butt. Kay stays behind to nurse Matt. When the Indians attack, the trio escape in the raft. Their farm is burned to the ground because crack-shot Matt didn’t have his rifle. The defenseless trio make their way down river across the rough rapids in the river named by the Indians as the ‘river of no return.’ Kay becomes upset when Matt lets it slip he’s looking to get revenge on Harry, and offers a feeble bleeding heart explanation for Harry’s criminal actions. Surviving Indian attacks, an attack by a mountain lion and a knife attack by the nasty poker player (Murvyn Vye) Harry cheated to get the claim, the trio reach Council City. By this time Kay and Matt have fallen in love, and she begs and gets from Matt one chance for her to convince her good-for-nothing boyfriend to apologize. Instead he tries to kill Matt, but Mark shoots him in the back to save his dad’s life (talk about plot contrivances!). It then leads to Kay and Matt uniting to restart their checkered lives.

Despite the film’s obvious shortcomings: its slight story and all its contrivances, it was enjoyable, there was plenty of action, the scenic shots were great and there was good chemistry between the busty Marilyn and the laconic Mitchum.