Archive for River of No Return

One-Way River

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2020 by dcairns

SHOW THEM NO MERCY! was originally going to be directed by Otto Preminger and star Wallace Beery, until Beery announced that he refused to be directed by anyone whose name he couldn’t pronounce.

RIVER OF NO RETURN was Preminger’s first Cinemascope film and a biggish hole in my Preminger viewing. Watching it on the Toshiba, I wished I’d been to see it restored in Bologna — the widescreen scenic images have a fantastic grandeur even on DVD, and on a big screen must be overwhelming.

Anyway, it’s a good film: Preminger’s long take sensibility is immediately a good match for ‘Scope, and he does a lot of impressive work with tricky elements like rafts, horses, etc. How many suitcases did they have to send downriver for this famous shot?

There’s a horrible scene, though, where Robert Mitchum’s character tries to straight-up rape Marilyn Monroe’s. He’s interrupted by a cougar attack, and then by two guys who show up and think about killing him, and what with one thing and another the incident is never referred to again. There are more moments when they seem on the verge of discussing it, but it turns out this was merely projection on our part.

As always with Otto-related questions, the answer is to be found in Chris Fujiwara’s critical study The World and Its Double. When Preminger finished shooting, Fox boss Darryl Zanuck was dissatisfied with the film, which he felt was unnecessarily cryptic about its characters’ goals, relationships, motives. He insisted on adding three scenes.

(His ally in the dumbing-down is the soundtrack, which helpfully embarks on Calhoun’s theme tune whenever anyone discusses him. Elsewhere it’s stirring and atmospheric, and Cyric Mockridge and an uncredited Leigh Harline are apparently responsible.)One was a conversation between Monroe and Rory Calhoun near the start, which explains why they’re together. Unfortunately, this information had already been covered extensively by later dialogue from Monroe to Mitchum, so screenwriter Frank Fenton (OUT OF THE PAST) ends up shoving paraphrases into the actors’ mouths, rendering the later scenes dangerously repetitive. (He gets away with it only because Monroe justifying her relationship in the words Calhoun has previously used is new material as far as her dealings with Mitchum is concerned.)

Another was a scene where Mitchum massages Monroe after a particularly exhausting stint on the rapids (the process photography on the raft is the film’s weakest point other than the following scene: the POV shots going downstream are terribly grainy and I’m guessing the background plates were shot “flat” in 1:1.33, because they’re grainy, everything seems too big, like our heroes have sailed into Land of the Giants, and there’s a lot of Anamorphic-mumpsy rubberwalling, as the scenery bends, as if trying to wrap itself around the leads (and who could blame it?).The third scene is Mitchum’s sudden, out-of-character attack on Monroe. These three bits were directed by Jean Negulescu. So, you see, Monroe and Mitchum couldn’t discuss the matter afterwards because the footage wasn’t shot.

Going by Zanuck’s comments, the massage and the attempted rape were both inserted to make the characters’ relationship clearer. But they don’t really do that, at least for a non-rapey modern audience. I suppose the massage scene could be there to suggest sexual attraction, but although it works as a sexy treat for the audience, it’s presented in the story as a practical answer to Monroe being freezing cold and exhausted.

And Mitchum pouncing on Monroe… this seems to be Zanuck’s idea of showing that he’s attracted to her. I suppose the character point is that he doesn’t respect her, regards her as a good-time girl who will submit to a rough embrace, and when she doesn’t, he just carries on because he can’t figure that out. But it’s rubbish. Mitchum isn’t dumb or brutish anywhere else in the movie. And they never mention it again.I don’t know of any evidence that the scene ignited any controversy at the time. For me, it hurts the movie’s ending quite a bit: Mitchum takes Monroe away from her saloon-singing life, slinging her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. This is already a bit too caveman for us modern folks. But Monroe ditching her sparkly shoes shows that she is a fully consenting partner in this change of lifestyle. The filmmakers were balancing out the audience appeal of Mitchum’s he-man stuff with the requirement that the leading lady have a mind of her own.

Zanuck’s raunchy intrusion upsets that quite badly. Monroe is now being carried off by a man who previously tried to force her into sex (while his young son, and, as it turns out, a cougar, were mere yards away). We’ll probably make some allowance since after all it’s Mitchum (and he’s not in Max Cady mode… rivers seem to bring out the worst in him, though), but damage is certainly done.

(I would quite like to see a director’s cut of this offered, perhaps as a bonus on a Blu-ray. (I think you always need to keep the original around to illustrate the historical record: THIS is what audiences saw upon release…)


Cities of the Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on June 21, 2017 by dcairns

I’m doing something very un-Scottish — skipping out on a film festival I don’t have to pay for (Edinburgh) to attend a festival I do have to pay for (Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna). Though the latter is astonishingly good value. And I’m addicted to it. Means I have to somehow earn enough to attend it annually for the rest of my life. I wish there was any remote prospect of doing the same for Telluride.

I don’t even have a program for Bologna, but it’s sure to be good. Not that Edinburgh isn’t, with some juicy retrospectives and masterclasses, my favourite stuff since I’m less besotted with new movies than old (there, I finally admitted it! Feels good… feels CLEAN.)

Cannes was late this year, it’s just been explained to me by fest director Mark Adams, which has pushed a lot of fests back, including Edinburgh, resulting in a big overlap with Bologna, which has stayed put. Although, if they were to move it to a slightly less sizzling time of year, I wouldn’t be against that. The air conditioning in those cinemas really can’t cope with a standing-room-only audience, so you get people falling asleep, numbed by the heat, during movies they’ve waited all their lives to see. And since I never sleep very well away from home, that’s likely to be my fate. During my first visit to Cinema Ritrovato, I sat down to enjoy an early Japanese talkie, blinked, and when my eyes opened, it was the end credits.

Last year, the heat was so intense Fiona literally melted into a puddle on arrival, and was only reconstituted by the hotel air conditioning. This year my hotel doesn’t even have air con, as I’m saving money, and Fiona’s not coming. Last year I got something resembling trench foot, brought on by the sweltering conditions. My foot looked like Baron Harkonnen. And not the TV version.

So Fiona’s getting left behind. Keep an eye on her, and if she’s lonely, take her to a movie, you and Barbara.


The deal was, she gets a tablet and a new cat (Momo, pictured) and I get to go to Bologna. Not sure what’ll happen next year.

So… the original, silent version of PRIX DE BEAUTE, in an Augusto Gennino retrospective. RIVER OF NO RETURN on the big screen ought to be pretty overwhelming. STEAMBOAT BILL JNR (co-starring Edinburgh man Ernest Torrence). Marion Davies in THE PATSY, which I missed this year at Bo’ness. JOHNNY GUITAR. More treasures from the Universal vaults (the Laemmle years). Sjostrom, Stiller, Borzage, Gance, Protazanov, Wiene, all from 100 years ago.

Update! The program is OUT!

And I had totally forgotten that heartbreaking feeling of two screenings being on opposite each other…

Disc Drive

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by dcairns

Elizabeth Wiener Investigates 

Regular Shadowplayer Jenny wrote this in our Comments section: 

‘This is off-topic but I wanted to know your opinion on the DVD-market in Britain.  After 10 years in this format are we getting a good choice of films?’ 

First, I have to ask, relative to what? I’m cheered by the fact that there’s more films available, and more good ones, on DVD than were ever accessible on VHS, and the quality is generally much better (pan-and-scan is almost becoming extinct). On the other hand, the selection in America seems to be much better (plus the U.S. has the wonder that is Turner Classic Movies — the British equivalent is a pale and simpering shadow of the mighty stateside behemoth). So the situation could still stand monstro improving.

Deeper Into Films

‘I rent from and often find it galling that they don’t have more international and older films available to rent – they do seem to have everything that is available on region 2 but it doesn’t seem enough.’ 

It definitely isn’t. (NOTHING IS EVER ENOUGH!) I may actually be getting near the dregs of what I want to rent in this country, even though new stuff keeps coming out.

There IS a sorta-solution for British residents, but it doesn’t involve renting, and depending on how far you take it, it could get… illegal.

barely legal

First, you need a multi-region player. These are just as cheap as single-region ones, sometimes even cheaper (they actually ADD something to the DVD player to make it single region only). You can also find online hacks for most DVD players that actually convert them to multi-region, easy as π.

Then you buy from You can already buy from, etc, since European discs use the same region coding as the UK. Once you’ve watched the film you can sell it on eBay, so the cost ends up being relatively low.

Now comes the illegal bit. With free software like DVD Decrypter, DVD Shrink, combined with the more expensive Nero, it’s possible to copy every film you buy or rent. I’m not suggesting you do this as IT IS WRONG. Bruce Willis and Jeffrey Katzenberg will wind up BEGGING IN THE STREETS if you do this. Could you live with yourself?

It could be argued that ripping movies that aren’t available in the UK is a way to correct a problem in the marketplace, where a demand isn’t being met, or prices are too high. But it’s a slippery slope. Once you start ripping you may find it hard to stop.

So don’t do that. But the buying from abroad thing is legal, and you’ll be helping out others by re-selling what you buy.

It’s great if you’re interested in getting French movies without English subs, because (a) you can learn a lot of storytelling technique from watching films where you don’t understand the dialogue and (b) if you speak French, then a whole new set of nuances in the dialogue will be open to you, and also (c) you’ll be able to see lots of great French films that aren’t available anywhere with English subtitles, like these weird things.

ecstasy of cinema

Jenny also said:

‘Recently I emailed [Lovefilm] to ask if they could start renting out films from other regions but make it clear that they don’t have English subtitles.  As always with their customer services they emailed back some piece of the  terms and conditions that they think has something to do with my query but doesn’t actually answer it at all (many businesses seem to communicate in the same way as an MP these days).  So I clicked “No this doesn’t answer my question” and tried again.  This time they came back with “We only rent out region 2 DVDs”.  But hang on, this is a suggestion from a customer – at least say you’re going to put it in a suggestion box.  Pretend!  This is called running a business!  So I don’t know if it’s illegal or if they don’t work in UK DVD players.’ 

Generally a DVD distributor only has the rights for a certain set of territories, so it wouldn’t be legal for a U.S. or a French DVD to be offered for rental in the U.K. But if Lovefilm are failing to give you this information, keep hassling them — I think unhelpful customer service should be repaid in kind by obstreperous customers who refuse to give up.

My favourite Lovefilm moment is when they suddenly increased their databse by about a thousand, and were offering films for rent like THE CASE OF LENA SMITH, which not only is unavailable on DVD anywhere in the world, it’s actually a LOST FILM — only fragments survive.

‘If small, critically acclaimed films that I read about don’t make it on to DVD and TV continues to ignore films I literally have no chance of watching them.’

The issue of British TV’s slide into a completely insular world that ignores art cinema is a really serious one which I should blog about soon.

‘I also think that great directors should have all their films released on DVD – with smaller production of their less-popular work.  I think they have managed this with Hitchcock but not with many others.’

Unseen in UK

I totally agree. One consequence of having a filmmaker’s entire oeuvre available is that even the weaker films become more interesting when you can see them all together. And yet at present in the UK you can’t even see every Spielberg film.

I understand that with a filmmaker like Akira Kurosawa, who was both long-lived and prolific, and who worked for more than one studio, gathering all the rights together at one DVD distributor would be tough. And while servicing movie buffs who want to see all Otto Preminger’s movies, Hollywood studios also want to keep fans happy who are more interested in movie stars, so for instance RIVER OF NO RETURN may get a release ahead of DAISY KENYON, even if it’s not as interesting, purely because it has Monroe.

Then there are commendable outfits like the womderful Criterion and Masters of Cinema, which exist to deliver the creme de la creme of film culture, and which therefore don’t go in for complete filmographies.

Where a filmmaker has made a relatively small number of films, it would be nice if they were all made available by SOMEBODY. There’s a Clouzot box set, but it doesn’t contain many of his films. Masaki Kobayashi was far from prolific, but most of his stuff is still not obtainable in the west, and hardly any in the UK. Of Von Sternberg’s 22 existing, complete features, about half are not available, including all his silent films (although a few of these WERE released on VHS).

For all these reasons and more, the capitalist system doesn’t serve the discerning film lover very well, even if it did allow many of the great films to get made in the first place. (BUT — free BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in today’s Guardian).

All images from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s LA PRISONNIERE (not available in the US or UK, not available with English subtitles ANYWHERE).