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River of No Return(1954)
After his wife dies, Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum) and his young son begin a new life in the breathtaking, rugged Northwest wilderness, where Calder is robbed and beaten by ruthless gambler Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun). When Weston's beautiful fiancée (Marilyn Monroe) then decides to nurse Calder back to health, the insanely jealous Weston risks their lives by taking them all on a ride down a treacherous river in this spectacular looking Western.
For more about River of No Return and the River of No Return Blu-ray release, see River of No Return Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Otto Preminger
Writer: Frank Fenton (I)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun, Douglas Spencer, Tommy Rettig, Murvyn Vye
» See full cast & crew
River of No Return Blu-ray Review
"We cleared this land, son, it's ours."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 2, 2012
She was the innocent girl next door and a va-va-voom sex symbol. A "dumb" blond anxious to be taken seriously. The archetypal exploited starlet, a shrewd showbiz negotiator, and an on-top-of-the-world performer with a personal life in shambles. A flame snuffed out too soon and a 20th century pop culture icon forever immortalized on the screen. Marilyn Monroe was and is a glorious contradiction, and the enigma of her life, career, and death has inspired an ongoing stream of biographies and photobooks, critical commentary and general interest. As this year is the 50th anniversary of Monroe's probable suicide, the tributes have been coming in at an even faster pace, from Vanity Fair covers to NBC's Smash to the recent My Week with Marilyn.
20th Century Fox is getting in on the action with the Forever Marilyn collection, a seven-disc set that features a selection of films made between 1952 and 1962, the decade that took Monroe from a pretty up-and-coming face to the most recognized and highly paid actress on the planet. The films are also available individually—Some Like It Hot and The Misfits came out last year, the rest arrive simultaneously this week —and since the set includes no exclusive special features, it's really up to fans if they want to go all in or pick and choose which titles they want. (Unsurprisingly, you save a bit of cash with the boxed set.) Instead of writing up a single, epically long review of the Forever Marilyn collection as a whole, we've put up a sort of overview here of the packaging and contents, with links to these individual reviews.
The third disc in the Forever Marilyn set is 1954's River of No Return, a western adventure/romance directed by Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder) and based on a short story that was loosely inspired by Vittorio De Sica's neorealist classic, Bicycle Thieves. Here, a farmer struggles to take care of his young son after he has his horse stolen—losing a necessary form of transportation—but the similarities end there. The film is set at the height of the gold rush, opening with widower and ex-con Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum) riding into a frenzied mining town, looking for his ten-year-old boy, Mark (Tommy Rettig), whom he's never met. Mark was dropped off there after his mother died, and he's been taken under the wing of Kay Weston (Marilyn Monroe), a saloon singer who's engaged to a suspiciously slick gambler named Harry (Rory Calhoun).
Matt retrieves his son and takes him off into the wilderness to farm and live off the land, but their peaceful father/son bonding doesn't last long. When Kay and Harry head on a raft towards Council City—to file a deed on a mining claim won in a poker match—Matt rescues them from the rapids and gives them a place to stay for the night. Eager to get to town, Harry busts Matt on the head and absconds with his rifle and horse, leaving Kay behind to tend to the injured farmer and promising to return when his business is through. Worsening matters, war-paint-wearing, bow and arrow-wielding Indians appear on the ridge, forcing the makeshift family to defenselessly flee downriver as the farm burns to the ground behind them.
The journey to civilization inevitably becomes a journey toward love, with Matt and Kay, who hate each other at first, gradually warming to one another's charms. There are a few tense encounters along the way—a mountain lion attack, the sudden appearance of two untrustworthy hunters, and more run-ins with the Indians—but the episodic film has little use for an intricate plot. Instead, it's concerned with the characters' slow understanding as they face dangers together, both sharing a fondness for the boy who needs them to survive. It's hardly high drama, but Monroe and Mitchum make sparks out of their onscreen friction, matching each other for stubbornness and tenacity.
Offscreen, heads were butted too. Between Mitchum's heavy drinking, Monroe's inability to remember her lines, and Preminger's impatience with Marilyn's overbearing acting coach—Natasha Lytess—River of No Return's shoot was reportedly stressful. Afterward, Monroe even went so far as to unfairly call the film "a grade-Z cowboy movie in which the acting finished second to the scenery and the Cinemascope process." Grade-B is more fitting. This is one of Preminger's lesser films, to be sure—he was essentially a hired gun, and reshoots were done later without him—but he does show a great command of widescreen mise-en-scène, using the advantages of the Cinemascope aspect ratio to evoke the grandeur of the west, the isolation of the characters, and the danger of the titular river.
River of No Return Blu-ray, Video Quality
Filmed in ultra-wide Cinemascope, River of No Return was another bid by Fox to lure television-addled audiences back into theaters for a widescreen spectacle unavailable at home. Between the gorgeous Canadian Rockies scenery and the appeal of Marilyn Monroe at the peak of her career, the film does have a lot going for it visually, and continues to do so with 20th Century Fox's new high definition remaster. River's 1080p/AVC- encoded transfer is beautiful—and faithful to source—from start to finish. The print is in terrific condition, with only a few blink-and-you'll-miss-'em white specks, and the integrity of the 35mm image is unspoiled by digital noise reduction, wanton edge enhancement, or compression issues. Though not sharp by today's standards, River's level of clarity is generally excellent, with fine detail visible in Robert Mitchum's craggy face and the textures of Monroe's western-burlesque outfits. It's certainly an immediate improvement over the previously released DVD. You'll notice a Technicolor credit in the titles, but the film was only printed using the dye-transfer technique; it was shot on a monopack Eastmancolor negative stock, not the bulky three-strip process of true Technicolor. Still, while not as vibrant as, say, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the palette here makes for a mix of Wild West realism and dreamy nostalgia for a bygone era. You'll notice some slight color/brightness/grain fluctuations during scene changes—this is to be expected—but otherwise the transfer is consistent, with great contrast and a very dimensional picture.
River of No Return Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's original 4-channel stereophonic sound has been broadened out slightly into today's standard DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. Rear channel output is limited, however, to quiet river rapid ambience during two of the rafting sequences, as well as providing a bit of extra space for the score during one particular music cue. Otherwise, this is an exclusively front-and-center experience. Clarity-wise, the mix is excellent; Marilyn's guitar strumming and vocal cooing sound lovely, Cyril J. Mockridge's propulsive orchestral score has a decent amount of depth for its time, and the occasional effects have as much oomph as they need. The lone audio anomaly I noticed was that some of the voices peak a bit during the hectic Indian chase scene —no big deal. The rest of the dialogue throughout is clear, cleanly recorded, and easily understood. The disc includes a Dolby Digital 4.0 track for comparison, along with a rather overwhelming selection of dub and subtitle options.
River of No Return Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
River of No Return Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Not Otto Preminger's best, and not Marilyn's either—she later recalled it, somewhat unfairly, as one of her worst films—River of No Return is nonetheless an enjoyable western adventure that glories in Rocky Mountain scenery and the romantic frisson of its two leads. If nothing else, it's worth watching for Marilyn's sultry, wink-wink musical numbers, like when she sings "I've got a fever, oooh the fever, but not for gold in the ground." 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release is gorgeous—doing justice to the film's Cinemascope cinematography—and through the disc is devoid of new extras, fans of the film will find it worth the upgrade for the 1080p picture quality alone. Recommended!
Blu-ray bundles with River of No Return (2 bundles)
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River of No Return Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Forever Marilyn: The Blu-ray Collection (Updated) - June 1, 2012
In July, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will bring the Forever Marilyn Collection to Blu-ray. Timed to mark the fiftieth anniversary of screen icon Marilyn Monroe's tragic passing, this box set contains seven of her most beloved features, five of which ...
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