Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - River of No Return

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, a feature for my podcast that I worked really hard on until it started to eat up too much of my time.  Rather than let all my notes go to waste, I decided to start posting them here on my blog.  For this entry, we get to the Marilyn Monroe classic River of No Return.  This entry is originally dated November 2, 2010.

Something a little different for Fishing in the Discount Bin tonight.

Back in the mid-1950s, Hollywood had a brief love affair with the Canadian Rockies.  About half-a-dozen films in that period were filmed completely on location in Banff and Jasper National Parks.  And arguably the most famous film from this "Rocky Mountain love affair" is River of No Return, because it starred the iconic Marilyn Monroe.  It also starred Robert Mitchum, and the two of them were some of the biggest movie stars in the 1950s.

River of No Return has actually been making headlines in Alberta as of late.  Some recently discovered photos of Monroe chillaxin' at the Banff Springs Hotel and playing tourist on the streets of Jasper have just been published in a book, and the media has been running the story of the history of the photos, and the film, and the relationship between Marilyn Monroe and the Rocky Mountains.  So, since it's been all over the news, I figured it was finally time to check out this movie.  My local video store didn't have it, but lo and behold, my library did, so I checked it out of the library and threw it in the ol' DVD player.

The film opens with some absolutely gorgeous shots of the Rockies, and I found the images to be quite maddening.  I've been vacationing in the Rockies ever since I was a baby, and as I saw the images I kept going, "I know that place!  It's...it's...no, wait, it'll come to me...DAMN IT, what's the name of that place?"  Soon the opening credits rolled and I was nicely distracted. 

After the opening credits, we come to a tent city, and Matt Calder (Mitchum) rides into town.  Calder's been away for a real long time, and now he's looking for his 9-year old son so he can start rebuilding his life.  The man that was looking after Calder's son has long since run off, and young Mark (that's Calder's son) has been looked after by showgirl by the name of Kay (that's Monroe).  Once Calder claims Mark and they head off to their homestead, we're introduced to Weston -- Kay's boyfriend.  Weston is a professional gambler, and he just won a gold mine in a poker game.  Weston needs to make it down to Council City to file the claim on the mine, but there are no horses to be had in town.  So, Weston convinces Kay to buy themselves a raft, and they'll sail down the river to Council City.

We then catch up with Calder and Mark, who are settling into their lives as a humble farming family.  Mark keeps asking his dad where he was for so long, but Calder dodges the subject.  While tending the fields one day, they see a raft caught in the rapids on the river.  Calder and Mark rescue the raft, and it turns out to be Weston and Kay.  Now convinced that traveling down the river is too dangerous, Weston tries to buy Calder's horse and rifle so he can continue on land.  When Calder refuses, Weston beats the crap out of Calder and steals the horse and rifle.  Not wanting to leave young Mark fatherless, Kay chooses to stay behind and nurse Calder back to health.

Once Calder is back on his feet, the Indians who live around Calder's land make their move.  The Indians drive Calder, Mark, and Kay off their land.  With no way to defend themselves, because Weston stole his horse and rifle, the three of them hop on the raft and sail down the river to safety.  With no where left to go, Calder resolves to sail down the river to Council City and bring Weston to justice. 

From this point on, the movie falls into a routine...they sail down the river for a bit, they set up camp, and then Kay, still in love with Weston, tries to talk Calder out of his quest for justice.  During one of their stops, Kay and Calder get into an argument and, in front of young Mark, Kay blurts out where Calder was for so long -- he was in prison for murder.  Calder explains that he had to kill the man because the man was about to kill his friend, and he had to do it to save his friend.  But this little fact has young Mark seeing his father in a new light, and Kay fears that when Calder talks about justice, he's really talking about killing her love. 

They sail, they camp, they talk, they sail, they camp, they talk, they sail, they camp, they get attacked by a mountain lion and are saved by some mountain men, the mountain men turn out to be jerks to they fight off the mountain men, they sail, they camp, they talk, they sail, they camp, they talk, they sail, they fight off Indians, and arrive in Council City.

When they arrive in Council City, Kay implores Calder for a moment alone with Weston, to try to talk some sense into Weston.  Calder agrees, and Calder and Mark head to the general store for a cup of coffee.  Kay tracks down Weston, and finally sees Weston for the selfish jerk he really is.  When she informs him that Calder intends to turn him into the authorities, Weston cocks his gun and decides to take down Calder.  Weston has Calder cornered, but before Weston can deliver the deathblow, Mark saves his father by shooting Weston in the back.  With Mark now fully understanding what his father did all those years ago, father and son reach a new understanding.  Feeling dejected and heartbroken over what a lout Weston turned out to be, Kay just quietly walks across the street to the saloon to get another job as a showgirl. 

But, later that night, after Kay has performed the film's theme song, of course, Calder rescues her from her live of whoring herself on stage, and they all ride off into the sunset together. 

This film looks amazing.  It's in full Technicolor glory.  And it's really cool to see the Rockies on film.  However, the film is awfully slow-moving, and it is very talky.  And as for the legendary Monroe, I did find her acting to be a little flat. 

All in all, it's a nice film, good but not great, and it's always neat to watch a film and go, "Hey!  I've been there!"  It's worth checking out.

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