River of No Return did well at the box office when it was released in 1954. This western has a relatively simple script and might have blended in well with average western fare if it weren’t for two things. The first was the scenery. Director Otto Preminger and Cameraman Joseph LaShelle took full advantage of Cinemascope to capture the grandeur of national parks as mesmerizing settings for the story. Also beautiful on the screen was the leading lady, Marilyn Monroe. Her role as a saloon singer served as useful excuse to have her fill the screen. To extend her screen time, Preminger has her sing several musical numbers. When Marilyn or the gorgeous buttes of Idaho aren’t depicted on screen, we have Robert Mitchum tangling with scoundrels, Indians, and mountain lions. There’s not a lot of depth to or explanation of these characters. No reasons are given for the Indian and mountain lion attacks other than the assumption that’s what Indians and mountain lions do. As a result, those scenes lack strength and are forgotten as quickly as a childhood game. There is more chemistry between Marilyn and the boy, played by Tommy Rettig, than there is between Monroe and Mitchum. Had there been more of a spark, River of No Return might rank higher in its status as a classic Western.
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