Cast & Crew
In 1875, the Northwest is filled with gold prospectors, and tent cities are overflowing with the saloon keepers, gamblers and entertainers who hope to profit from them. One day, a taciturn stranger rides into a tent city, where he looks for a nine-year-old boy, whom he had sent there from Illinois. The stranger, Matt Calder, introduces himself to the boy, Mark, as his father, and explains that he has returned after an extended absence so that they can be a family, even though Mark's mother died years earlier. Mark insists on bidding farewell to Kay, the saloon singer who has been caring for him while he was waiting, and Kay upbraids Calder for neglecting his son. Although Calder has a low opinion of dance hall girls, he thanks Kay and leaves, and on the ride to their homestead, tells Mark that they are going to have a good life of hunting, fishing and farming. At the saloon, Kay's fiancé, gambler Harry Weston, rushes in to tell her that he has won an important gold claim in a poker game and must go to Council City to file the deed. Kay suspects that Weston cheated his opponent, but his pleas that the gold mine represents their chance for a better life persuade her to leave, and soon they are floating in a raft down the river toward Council City. They encounter trouble in a patch of rapids, but fortunately are near Calder's farm, and he and Mark pull them to safety. Mark is delighted to see Kay, who tells him that she and Weston are now married. When Calder tells Weston that he is crazy to brave the fierce river rapids, Weston offers to buy his rifle and horse so that he can travel overland. Calder refuses, citing his need to protect the farm against the ever-present threat of Indian attack. Weston steals the rifle and horse anyway, and assures Calder that he will return them soon, then knocks him out when Calder attempts to stop him. Infuriated by his actions, Kay decides to stay behind and watches as Weston rides off. When Calder regains consciousness, he sees that nearby Indians have witnessed the incident and are preparing to attack, so he quickly loads Mark and Kay onto the raft and sets off down the river. Calder watches stoically as the farm is burned to the ground, even though he tells Mark that he could have stopped the Indians if he still had his rifle. That night, the threesome camps by the river, and Kay tries to explain that Weston, who has had a hard life, is trying to improve himself, even though he went about it the wrong way. When she realizes that Calder intends to pursue Weston to Council City rather than wait for him to return, she tries to cut the raft free, but Calder stops her and calls her a tramp for her devotion to a man who would leave a child to die. Kay retorts that at least Weston never shot a man in the back, and the couple then realizes that a stunned Mark has overheard their argument. Calder tries to explain to his son that he had been in prison after killing a man for attacking his best friend, but despite his gentle tone, Mark cannot understand why he shot the man in the back. They then return to the river, and Calder relates that the Indians call it "the river of no return," because of the rapids. Kay bravely helps to steer through one bad patch, but the exertion and cold make her faint. That evening, Kay is surprised by how tenderly Calder cares for her and Mark, and the next morning, he succeeds in killing an elk. While the meat is cooking, Mark reproaches his father for disliking Kay, but Calder grimly states that she is nothing to him, and all he cares about is bringing Weston to justice. While Kay and Calder then unload the raft, she tries to tell Calder that they could have been friends under different circumstances, and Calder, misunderstanding her intent, forcibly pins her down and kisses her. Calder's actions are stopped by a cry from Mark, who is being stalked by a mountain lion. A shot from two passing men kills the cat, and the men, Sam Benson and Dave Colby, reveal that they are riding to Council City in pursuit of Weston, who won their gold claim. The vulgar Colby offers to take Kay with them, but repulsed by him, she refuses, and when Calder orders the men to leave, Colby attacks him with a knife. Calder bests his opponent and, taking one of the rifles, boards the raft again with Mark and Kay, who admits that she is not married to Weston. Calder apologizes for his earlier behavior, but again refuses to listen when Kay defends Weston. Soon after, a group of Indians attack them, but Calder is able to fend them off. The raft then enters the worst of the rapids, and after a torturous ride, the group finally reaches Council City. Calder allows Kay to speak with Weston alone while he and Mark wait in the general store, and although she is disturbed that Weston had not returned for her, she pleads with him to be honest with Calder. Kay is horrified when Weston shoots at Calder, and Mark is forced to shoot Weston in the back with a store rifle in order to protect his father. At last understanding what his father had done, Mark reconciles with him, and Kay sadly heads to the saloon. Later, Kay is singing in the saloon when Calder storms in and tosses her over his shoulder. Kay protests as Calder puts her in a wagon with Mark, but when he tells her that she is going home with them, she happily tosses her red shoes, the last link to her past, into the street.
Joseph La Shelle
Cyril J. Mockridge
Edward B. Powell
Walter M. Scott
River of No Return
20th Century-Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck saw in the story an opportunity to exploit two of the studio's newest and biggest assets: CinemaScope and Marilyn Monroe. The star was cast as a dance-hall singer who befriends the hero (Robert Mitchum) and his son (Tommy Rettig) and sets off with them on a perilous journey in pursuit of the gambler (Rory Calhoun) who has stolen their horse and gun. Over Rubin's objections, Zanuck assigned Otto Preminger to direct the film. Preminger then had an expensive contract that obliged the studio to pay him whether he was working on a film or not, so it was in Zanuck's interest to keep him occupied.
River of No Return started shooting on location in Alberta in July 1953. Monroe insisted on bringing along her acting coach, Natasha Lytess, and deferred to her for guidance on her performance. According to Preminger, Lytess urged Monroe to drop her characteristic "soft, slurred voice" and "enunciate every syllable distinctly. Marilyn didn't question Natasha's judgment. She rehearsed her lines with such grave ar-tic-yew-lay-shun that her violent lip movements made it impossible to photograph her.... I pleaded with her to relax and speak naturally but she paid no attention." Enraged on finding that Lytess was also trying to influence child actor Tommy Rettig, Preminger barred Lytess from the set. Monroe appealed to Zanuck, who overruled the director and permitted Lytess to return. Preminger made no attempt to conceal his displeasure at having his authority undermined. From then on, he usually conveyed his directions to Monroe through either Robert Mitchum or assistant director Paul Helmick.
On August 19, Monroe suffered a leg injury during the shooting of a raft scene. When she resumed work, she was sporting crutches and a walking cast. Realizing that the crew's sympathies were all with the actress, Preminger welcomed her back to the set "with a great display of European manners" (in the words of Shelley Winters, who visited the set). For the rest of the production, Preminger and Monroe were on more cordial terms, though her continual problems with dialogue irritated him. "Some of it had to be done in short takes because she couldn't remember her lines," the director later recalled. "I didn't want to spend my entire life in Canada."
Despite this remark, Preminger indulged his penchant for long takes throughout River of No Return. It was his first film in CinemaScope, a format he mastered immediately, exploiting its ability to stage scenes in a fluid, gradually unfolding manner. In River of No Return, CinemaScope enables Preminger to keep characters and settings in a dynamic but coherent relationship over extended duration. He uses the wide screen to emphasize the distance between people in the composition as a meaningful element and to stress the horizontality of the river (which plays a co-starring role in the film) and the solitude of the human protagonists in space. Though many critics would come to regard Preminger as one of the great CinemaScope stylists, he claimed to be indifferent to the shape of the screen. "What counts isn't the frame, it's what you put in it," he said.
Preminger did not finish River of No Return. Viewing the director's rough cut, Zanuck demanded additional footage. "Our picture is inarticulate," he complained. "We have got to stop guessing about these relationships. Once and for all, we want to lay it on the line so there can be no doubt or confusion as to what our people mean and how they feel." Several new scenes were written and filmed, including two moments of physical contact between the two stars: an attempted rape and a scene in which Mitchum gives Monroe a massage. Preminger was by then conveniently out of town, so Jean Negulesco, with whom Monroe had had a happy working relationship on How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), was assigned to shoot the new scenes.
Based on a story that Preminger did not select or develop, made from a script that had been largely written by the time he was assigned to the film, starring an actress he disliked, and, finally, partly reshot by another director, River of No Return clearly can't be considered a Preminger work in the same right as his independent productions or even most of his previous films for Fox. Yet the visual grace and the warm, slightly melancholy tone of River of No Return prove that Preminger's ability to control a film through direction depends neither on his prior control over the script, nor on his also functioning as producer.
Producer: Stanley Rubin
Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Frank Fenton, based on a story by Louis Lantz
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Film Editing: Louis Loeffler
Art Direction: Addison Hehr, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Matt), Marilyn Monroe (Kay), Tommy Rettig (Mark), Rory Calhoun (Weston), Murvyn Vye (Colby), Douglas Spencer (Benson).
by Chris Fujiwara
River of No Return
The film ran over schedule and budget due to mishaps caused when director Otto Preminger insisted that actors perform their own stunts for the scenes of the raft struggling down the rapids. On one occasion, Marilyn Monroe had to be saved from drowning when her boots filled with water, and on another occasion, she and Robert Mitchum had to be rescued when their raft became stuck on a rock and was on the verge of overturning.
During the shoot in Jasper, local resident Wilbur Stanley and a friend were watching some of the scenes. Robert Mitchum accepted their invitation during a break and they returned to their car, where they each had a beer and talked. Afterward Mitchum got out of the car, threw the bottle across the ground near there, and commented "Best breakfast I ever had!"
At the end of the film, a written acknowledgment reads: "The Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation thanks the Canadian Government for its cooperation in the production of this motion picture." On May 15, 1952, Los Angeles Times reported that Louis Lantz' original story had been purchased as a vehicle to star Dale Robertson, and that Julian Blaustein would serve as the picture's executive producer. The news item also announced that the film would be shot on the Salmon River in Idaho. According to a November 1952 Daily Variety news item, Lantz was set to write the film's screenplay, but only Frank Fenton is credited onscreen.
Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors in the cast, although their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed: Dorothy Skelton, George M. Patay, Mort Mills, Russ Conklin, John Fritz, Patricia Wright, Connie Castle and LaRue Farlow. Although a December 31, 1953 entry in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column indicated that four separate endings for the film had been shot and that the studio was undecided about which one to use, this information has not been verified by another source. Hollywood Reporter news items do note, however, that retakes for the picture were directed in mid-November and mid-December 1953 by Jean Negulesco, who was filling in for the out-of-town Otto Preminger. In several modern interviews, Negulesco stated that he directed
According to studio publicity, the picture was filmed in the province of Alberta, Canada, in the Jasper and Banff National Parks, and on the Maligne, Bow and Snake Indian Rivers. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, filming was suspended twice because of injuries suffered by Marilyn Monroe, and several modern sources have commented on the physical hardships endured by Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Tommy Rettig during production. A modern source adds the following crew members to the production: Mitchum's stand-in Tim Wallace; Mitchum's stunt double Roy Jenson; Monroe's stunt double Helen Thurston; Rettig's stunt double Harry Monty; and Stunt coordinator Fred Zindar.
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States June 1989
Released in United States Spring April 1954
Shown at Film Forum in New York City June 10 & 11, 1989.
Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.
Only western to ever be directed by Otto Preminger.
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.)
Released in United States Spring April 1954
Released in United States June 1989 (Shown at Film Forum in New York City June 10 & 11, 1989.)