Rapid Moves for Mitchum and Monroe
"River of No Return" would have struggled to be an average western if it wasn't for two things, Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe as it is these 2 actors who make it an entertaining and enjoyable movie. Without them you are left with an obvious and flawed storyline as well as some dodgy effects shot in front of a projection. Actually I tell a lie as there is a third thing which helps make "River of No Return" more than just a struggling western and that is the stunning scenery, the mountains and the river that is when we haven't got Mitchum, Monroe and young Tommy Rettig so obviously acting in front of a projection. But for all that is wrong with it "River of No Return" basically works and whilst it doesn't take a genius to guess what will happen it does serve up quite a decent surprise to make you sit up and pay attention.
Having been estranged from his young son Mark (Tommy Rettig), Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum - His Kind of Woman) is happy to be reunited with the young boy, teaching him all about farming at his remote home in nearby a river. But the peace of their home life is lost when they come to the assistance of professional gambler Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun) and his attractive wife Kay (Marilyn Monroe - How to Marry a Millionaire), who they see floating on an out of control raft in the river. Desperate to get to Council City to file a gold claim, Harry steals Matt's rifle and horse leaving them defenceless from the nearby warring Indians. With no choice but to take the raft Matt, Kay and Mark head down the dangerous river in the hope of catching up to Harry.
From a storyline point of view "River of No Return" is seriously weak and when you get the set up in place with Matt having become reunited with his young son Mark and in the company of saloon singer Kay the outcome is only ever going to be one thing. It's all so obvious that being widowed Matt will end up falling for Kay and she with him despite an initial animosity. And the reason for Matt being estranged from his son is just as obvious, adding very little mystery to proceedings. So whilst you may have this storyline which sees Matt, Kay and Mark take to the wild river in a raft to avoid Indians on the warpath and track down Harry who has stole his horse and gun it is only ever about Matt and Kay falling for each other.
So to put it bluntly "River of No Return" is very obvious and you can guess that come the end of the movie they will have tracked down Harry and Kay will find herself having to make a decision about which man is right for her. But after what has been a very obvious movie there are 2 pretty stunning moments which add a surprising depth to such a simple storyline. These scenes almost feel out of place as everything up to this point had been plain sailing and suddenly almost out of nowhere you have two powerful moments, but they work and help make "River of No Return" an entertaining movie.
But before you get to this point you have to say that much of "River of No Return" is routine. As we watch Matt, Kay and Mark navigate the hazardous river there are moments of action be it a battle with the rapids, fighting off warring Indians or dealing with a couple of dodgy prospectors. Plus of course there is the softening of feelings between Matt and Kay although you have to say that it is of the old fashioned variety where we see Matt pretty much try and force himself upon Kay when she flirts with him. To put it bluntly up until the ending there are no surprises and the drama and action is very much of the cliche variety.
Yet despite this "River of No Return" is very entertaining and that is partly due to the magnificent scenery, well when we're not getting dodgy action in front of a projection, and partly because of Mitchum and Monroe. To be honest Robert Mitchum doesn't really do anything that special, he is tall, handsome and 100% man, a man with a slightly mysterious but expected past. But there is just something about him which draws us to him; his no nonsense way of dealing with things is charming despite at times being close to being a Neanderthal.
And then there is Marilyn Monroe who almost comes across as a contradiction. By that I mean when we have scenes which have so obviously been shot in a studio we have that stereotypical Monroe performance, breathless delivery of her lines whilst also sizzlingly sexy. But then in the various scenes which take her out of the studio and into the wild all of that disappears, oh she is still sexy as ever but her performance becomes more natural, stripped of all her usual tricks and becomes unbelievably attractive in her rawness. It almost feels like she comes alive in those scenes in the fresh mountain air and it is a delight to watch Monroe naked of her trademark mannerisms.
What this all boils down to is that for the most "River of No Return" is a very obvious and not that brilliant romantic western. It suffers from a weak script and some dodgy special effects yet it is entertaining. And the reason it is entertaining boils down to Mitchum and Monroe who both sparkle despite playing quite generic characters. It also helps that the location shots are spectacular and whilst obvious there are a couple of surprises along the way which catch you off guard.