It's 1875 in the wild Northwest. Matt Calder is reunited with his young son Mark in a saloon town and rather than go the usual route of prospecting, start a new life on a farm bordering the River of No Return. Their life is instantly disrupted by two events. One, gambler Harry Weston, who's one a gold claim under dubious circumstances, is eager to file the claim in Council City to prevent the loser from beating him to it. To that end, he steals Calder's horse and rifle, a capital offense in the codes of the West. Second, a group of Native Americans on the warpath descend on the farm. Both Calders and Kay, Weston's moll who stays behind to look after the injured Calder and his son, flee in time in the raft Weston and Kay arrived in.
From then on, it's a struggle to survive the rapids without any weapons, food, and constantly being drenched by that river whenever it's "wild and free." As Calder tells Kay, "The Indians call this the River of No Return. From here on, you'll find out why." He is so dead set on getting his hands on Weston, he'll risk anything, all the time looking after his two charges.
Conflicts arrive in many forms, the primary two are Kay's torn loyalties between Harry and Matt. She doesn't want Matt to kill Harry once the two meet up, and performs acts that range from desperate to being a seductive vamp, yet she realizes in their travails that he is thoughtful and unselfish, as demonstrated in the scene where he looks after her following her collapse from exhaustion. The other involves the circumstances where Matt had to leave young Mark in the saloon town for five years, and while it's justified, there is a certain amount of stigma in it.
Marilyn gets to sing four songs here, the acoustic guitar tune "One Silver Dollar" and the piano bar tune "I'm Gonna File My Claim", "Down In The Meadow", and one of the best songs she's ever sung, the title ballad. Her costumes aren't bad either, from the garish red dress she wears for the first song, the long green dress for the second tune, and the white blouse and anachronistic Levi's jeans she wears throughout the film. And this is the longest her hair has been in films, albeit it being a blonde wig, of course.
Despite the costumes, it's not a Western in the traditional sense of the word, but River Of No Return pales to others in the genre it's purported to be because it's more drama than action. Granted, this is not one of Marilyn's best films, nor is it that of Robert Mitchum's, Rory Calhoun's, or director Otto Preminger for that matter. Monroe would have to wait until The Seven Year Itch for her next biggest hit. However, both Mitchum and Monroe come off well despite the latter's dismissal of it.
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