"The River's Edge" is a strange but entertaining movie thanks to its strange mix of styles. On one hand it has an element of film noir about it with a love triangle enriched by the motives of the individuals but then it also has a western aspect as this love triangle takes us on a journey across country as the three characters head for the border. It sounds like it shouldn't work, a western noir but there is something strangely captivating about it making us not so much interested in what is happening but wanting to know the outcome. Basically it is a movie which draws us in and whilst at times struggles to keep our interest through action and scenery it keeps us there because we want to know who ends up with who and who will die.
Margaret (Debra Paget - Love Me Tender) is struggling to come to terms with life on her husband Ben's (Anthony Quinn - The Black Swan) ranch and it is getting too much for her to bare. But when her ex Nardo (Ray Milland - Love Story) shows up wanting Ben to help him across the border it becomes much more complicated as she ends up torn between the two men. On top of this Nardo has a case of stolen money and money does strange things to all three of them as they make their way through the wilderness, away from the border patrol.
It has to be said that for a movie which is only 87 minutes long it takes some time to get going as director Allan Dwan strives to set up the trio of characters. As such it almost feels unsure of what it wants to be as we are introduced to city girl Margaret as she struggles with life on the ranch of Ben Cameron, who she has just married. I say unsure because all of the scenes where we watch Margaret struggling from a shower which pumps out dirty water through to a scorpion in her slippers almost feels like a comedy. If it wasn't for the verbally ferocious arguments which ensue between her and Ben it would most definitely be a comedy. And at the same time we also meet the smooth and slightly mysterious Nardo who is looking to talk Ben into guiding him across the border away from the Patrols. All of which basically establishes the love triangle with Nardo having a case full of money which he has stolen that he wants to smuggle across.
Thankfully once all of these establishing scenes have been dealt with "The River's Edge" actually gets interesting especially with a shocking scene where we watch Nardo run over a patrol man, a scene which grabs your attention because of it being so visual. What follows on from there is the three main characters trekking through the wilderness with no one really trusting each other and with Margaret in the middle as she initially leaves Ben for Nardo then ends up siding with Ben once more when she discovers what money has done to Nardo.
And that is one of the key things about "The River's Edge" it is a movie which delves into how money can affect people's characters and not just Nardo who we learn has become a nasty, self centred piece of work but also the characters of Margaret and Ben. But what makes all of this work is that whilst their trek across the wilderness isn't that interesting, with a few cliche troubles, it is the guessing game as to the outcome. You keep watching because you don't know who will survive, who will end up with who and as each character has a nasty element brought on by the money you don't necessary side with one or the other.
What helps to keep you watching is that whilst none of the stars deliver an award winning performance they manage to make their characters more than just 2 dimensional. Anthony Quinn as Ben Cameron is brilliantly strong, almost Brando-esque in the various scenes where his anger boils over in an emotional out burst. In fact Quinn commands the movie more than Ray Milland who as criminal Nardo was top billed, that doesn't mean Milland doesn't deliver a good performance as there is something wonderfully smarmy and evil about his character, it's just that Quinn out acts him in every single scene. Plus there is the lovely Debra Paget who frankly grabs your eye early on with her flame red hair and tight jean shorts and keeps it through out not just because she is stunningly beautiful but because she delivers the split personality of a woman caught between to men.
What this all boils down to is that "The River's Edge" is an entertaining movie and manages to mix noir and western together but it is a case of what happens in the movie isn't always that interesting but the need to know the outcome is. And that is partly down to the acting which brings these conflicted characters to life so that they all have an element of good and bad about them. The shame is that there are some shocking scenes in "The River's Edge", ones which take you by surprise but so much of what happens in between these few scenes is almost ordinary that at times what is happening struggles to keep your attention.