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This film opens with this written passage: "We respectfully dedicate our story to the frontier women of America, who helped their men settle the Kentucky wilderness. They were gallant and courageous, and without their aggressive cooperation, few of us would be around to see this picture." It then launches into a story--apparently without intentional irony--about a scrappy Kentucky frontier gal determined to trap a carefree, confirmed-bachelor fur trader into marriage after she saves him from a Shawnee attack. Tricking him into a kiss inside a secret cave, she has her Indian servant track him down, forces him to marry her at gunpoint, and spends the rest of the movie pursuing him as he tries to flee to Canada. Perhaps not the courageous gallantry the opening dedication seems to reference, but this is after all a tongue-in-cheek comic action movie, bearing some resemblance (pointed out by several reviewers of the time) to the earlier frontier musical-comedy Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) produced by the same studio, MGM.
This marks the third and final teaming of Eleanor Parker and Robert Taylor, who also worked well together in the World War II drama Above and Beyond (1952) and the archeological adventure story Valley of the Kings (1954). Parker was riding high at this point in her career, coming off two Academy Award Best Actress nominations (Caged, 1950, and Detective Story, 1951) and solid hits in Scaramouche (1952) and The Naked Jungle (1954). Although Many Rivers to Cross didn't make much of an impression either critically or commercially, it didn't halt her career trajectory. She followed this with the true-life biography of Australian opera star and polio victim Marjorie Lawrence, Interrupted Melody (1955), earning her third and final Oscar® nomination, and solid support of Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955).
Taylor was one of the last of the famous leading men from MGM's golden days of the 1930s and 40s still under contract to the studio. At the time of this release, he had effectively moved from his beginnings as a dashing romantic figure into his action period (a move made by many of his contemporaries as they aged), keeping his career alive by alternating between Westerns and swashbuckling period adventures like Ivanhoe (1952) and Quentin Durward (1955).
The movie was directed by Roy Rowland, experienced at shepherding other stars past their early prime into Western roles, among them Joel McCrea (The Outriders, 1950), Ray Milland (Bugles in the Afternoon, 1952), and Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck (The Moonlighter, 1953). Although generally considered a second-string director, Rowland did receive a nomination from the Directors Guild of America for his work on the musical-comedy Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956).
Many Rivers to Cross has no relation to the 1969 reggae song by Jimmy Cliff. Instead, under the credits we hear the traditional tune "Higher Up the Berry Tree" sung by cowboy singer and character actor Sheb Wooley and reprised later in the movie by Parker and Taylor. Wooley began his on-screen career as one of Frank Miller's gang in High Noon (1952). He later had a non-country hit in 1958 with the novelty tune "The Purple People Eater."
Portions of the film were shot on location at Cloverdale and along the Russian River in northern California.
Among the familiar faces in the cast are future Gunsmoke TV Western star James Arness; Alan Hale, Jr. and Russell Johnson, who would appear as the Skipper and the Professor on the comedy series Gilligan's Island; and dancer Russ Tamblyn, who was also in the cast of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Academy Award-winner Victor McLaglen (The Informer, 1935) plays Parker's garrulous father, a role similar to the one he played in John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952), for which he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Most notable among the people behind the camera is director of photography John F. Seitz, working outside his usual milieu. Seitz is best known for his moody, evocative cinematography on such great films noirs as Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), The Big Clock (1948), and Sunset Boulevard (1950). Although never an Academy Award winner, he was nominated seven times and is one of the most respected and influential masters of shadow and light in Hollywood history. Seitz held eighteen patents for various photographic processes he developed, including lighting devices and methods for making dissolves and matte shots, which he perfected in the 1920s.
Director: Roy Rowland
Producer: Jack Cummings
Screenplay: Harry Brown and Guy Trosper, based on the story by Steve Frazee
Cinematography: John Seitz
Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Original Music: Cyril J. Mockridge
Cast: Robert Taylor (Bushrod Gentry), Eleanor Parker (Mary Stuart Cherne), Victor McLaglen (Cadmus Cherne), Jeff Richards (Fremont), James Arness (Esau Hamilton).
By Rob Nixon