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Otto Preminger
Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun, Tommy Rettig, Murvyn Vye, Douglas Spencer
Frank Fenton

Not Rated.

Widescreen 2.55:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 4.0
French Dolby Stereo
English, Spanish

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 5/14/2002

• Still Gallery
• Trailers
• Restoration Comparison

The Diamond Collection 2

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River of No Return (1954)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

When confronted with the sight of Marilyn Monroe in the 1954 Western River of No Return, I immediately flashed back to a different film: 1956’s Bus Stop. No, that flick wasn’t a Western, but it did feature a cowboy, which led to my connection. I didn’t like Bus Stop, so despite the lack of any true similarities it shared with Return, I must admit I didn’t look forward to my screening of the latter.

As it happened, the two movies actually had more in common than I expected, mainly due to Monroe’s role. In both flicks, she played barroom singers of potentially loose morals. A rugged cowboy then comes along to rescue her and make her an upstanding sort.

In Return, Monroe plays Kay, the wife of sleazy gold prospector Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun). She views him as a ticket out of her seedy situation, and when he finds a big lode, they plan to stake his claim and live happily ever after. However, events transpire to send things off course, and then run into Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum), a farmer who recently got out of prison. He killed a man to defend a friend, and he now returns to be with his young son Mark (Tommy Rettig).

In desperate need of transportation and protection, Weston steals a horse and a gun from Calder. This leaves them unprotected against the local Indians, so they have to split to survive. Calder also wants to go after Weston, so the threesome takes a chance and proceeds on a raft down a turbulent river. There they get to know each other and also learn more about themselves and their behavior.

Overall, Return seems like a pretty average Western. Frankly, though I just watched it four days ago, I find it hard to remember much about it. The movie did little wrong, but it also failed to provide any sparks or energy.

Some of that stems from the bland relationship between the leads. From minute one, it seems inevitable that Kay will lose Weston and hook up with Calder. The only question revolves around the way in which this relationship will evolve. Like many movie couples, the two appear to be total opposites at the start, and they bicker frequently. Of course, they slowly start to develop respect for each other as we move toward their preordained pairing.

I won’t quibble too much about the blandness of this concept, but the lack of chemistry between Mitchum and Monroe seems problematic. They simply don’t synch well together, so the inevitability of their relationship appears due to movie convention more than any form of connection.

Otherwise, River of No Return provides a competent and sporadically engaging Western but nothing more. Nothing about it seems to elevate the genre or allow the actors to stand out from the crowd. Were it not for the presence of Monroe and Mitchum, I think this one would have vanished from sight years ago.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B- / Bonus D-

River of No Return appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Through the five DVDs that make up the new Marilyn Monroe “Diamond Collection 2”, I saw erratic visuals. Without question, Return presented the strongest flick of the five, as it offered a consistently solid picture.

For the most part, sharpness appeared very good. A few wide shots betrayed some modest softness, but those instances occurred infrequently. Otherwise, the movie seemed nicely crisp and well defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and unlike its three “Diamond Collection 2” predecessors, Return suffered from no obvious edge enhancement. It also seemed almost shockingly free of flaws. A few speckles and a smidgen of grain appeared, but otherwise, this nearly 50-year-old flick looked wonderfully clean and fresh.

Colors seemed terrific. The movie used the lush and vibrant tones of Technicolor to good advantage, as it consistently presented a lovely palette. The colors looked bright and vivid throughout the film, and they often were quite stunning to behold. Black levels also appeared acceptably deep and dense, while shadow detail seemed clear and appropriately opaque. Overall, this was a very fine visual presentation that lost only a few points due to some minor softness. Otherwise, it offered a great image.

While the Dolby Surround 4.0 soundtrack of River of No Return couldn’t hope to live up to the excellent visuals, it still seemed fine for its age. The soundfield worked fairly well for the most part, with only one periodic exception: speech. Stereo films of this area often used very hard placement of lines, which meant dialogue could appear strongly in one of the side speakers. That technique occurred during Return, which was fine except for some ill definition at times. Most lines came from fairly appropriate domains, but at times the words emanated from illogical positions. On occasion, the speech tended to bleed and float across the forward spectrum, which became a moderate distraction.

However, Marilyn Monroe’s singing showed none of these problems, and the rest of the mix demonstrated good spread and localization. Effects created a nice sense of atmosphere and ambience, and music offered a reasonable stereo presence. The surrounds also kicked in with some light elements at times; for instance, river effects popped up from the rear to help bolster the presentation. However, the track remained fairly heavily anchored in the front, as the surrounds remained passive partners.

Audio quality showed its age but seemed decent. As with its “Diamond Collection 2” predecessors, speech offered the weakest parts. At times the lines appeared thin and unnatural, as they demonstrated excessive reverberation. The dialogue remained intelligible, though; it just sounded less distinct than I’d expect, even for this era. Music appeared reasonably bright and vivid, though, and some Indian drumming actually manifested fairly good depth. Effects were somewhat thin and lifeless, but they appeared clean and acceptably well defined considering the age of the film. I heard a little hiss at times throughout the movie, but not to a tremendous degree. Ultimately, River of No Return provided a listenable but unexceptional audio experience.

For the five DVDs that come as part of Fox’s “Diamond Collection 2”, we find very similar extras. All five include the same set of trailers. We discover ads for River as well as “Diamond 2” mates Don’t Bother to Knock, Monkey Business, Niagara and Let’s Make Love. In addition, we get an ad for the original “Diamond Collection”.

After that we locate a Still Gallery. This domain includes 20 images. Those consist of publicity photos and shots from the set. None of these appear fascinating, but they’re moderately interesting.

As with all of the discs in the original “Diamond Collection”, River and the other “Diamond 2” release offer a Restoration Comparison. This lets us see the changes from older releases of the film and the current one. I think these seem somewhat self-serving and a little pointless, but it can be interesting to note the improvements.

River of No Return feels like one of Marilyn Monroe’s more forgettable efforts. The movie provides a very average Western that suffers from few obvious failings. It simply never manages to become anything terribly interesting or provocative. On the other hand, the DVD offers absolutely terrific picture quality along with fairly good sound and the usual roster of insubstantial extras . I didn’t like the movie enough to strongly recommend it, but Monroe fans should give it a look, especially since they’ll likely be very pleased with the quality of the presentation.

Note that River of No Return can be purchased on its own or as part of Fox’s Marilyn Monroe “Diamond Collection 2” set. The latter includes four other movies: Don’t Bother to Knock, Monkey Business, Niagara, and Let’s Make Love. For dedicated fans of Marilyn, the “Diamond Collection 2” offers a nice bargain. It costs only $79.98 list as opposed to a total of $99.90 for the five films on their own. Granted, you’d need to really love Marilyn to want that much of her material, but if you fall into that category, it’s a great idea.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4583 Stars Number of Votes: 24
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