Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 9, 2019)
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 does little wrong, but it also fails 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.