BR: River’s Edge, The (1957)

May 13, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  March 19, 2019

Genre:  Film Noir / Suspense

Synopsis: A murderous thief hires his ex-girlfriend’s husband to ferry him and a million dollars into Mexico.

Special Features: 2006 Audio commentary with film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini / Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

According to film noir historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, Allan Dwan was championed by several film journalists as an auteur – notably Peter Bogdanovich in his book Allan Dwan: The Last Pioneer (1971) – and the commentators cite several notable directorial touches within his best body of work (use of colour, mirrors, and strong female characters), but the paucity of accessible films makes him both an unknown to noir fans, but also a filmmaker to discover.

While Fox’s 2006 special edition DVD was the first time the film could be seen in its original CinemaScope ratio, a wave of titles never followed; of his estimated 400+ credits, perhaps 20 exist across Warner Archive, as grey zone releases, and a few digital editions, with the odd title getting a deluxe transfer from KINO.

River’s Edge comes near the end of his career, and formed one of ten for indie producer Benedict Bogeaus. According to Silver and Ursini, studio Fox had plans to adapt Harold Jacob Smith’s novel The Highest Mountain, but Bogeaus nabbed the frozen property, and as was his skill, assembled a package with aging stars and a tight budget to which a studio couldn’t say no – hence Fox’s handling of the film with some familiar names in front of and behind the camera.

Anthony Quinn had just won his first Oscar for Viva Zapata! (1952) and would win a second for Lust for Life (1957), and co-star Ray Milland nabbed a statue for The Lost Weekend (1945). Fox contract player Paget had made her debut in the studio’s noir Cry of the City (1948) and later appeared in the Paramount blockbuster The Ten Commandments, and had struck gold with Elvis in the classic Love Me Tender (both 1956). Although she plays another woman-in-peril in River’s Edge, the role of a thief’s ex-girlfriend is much deeper than her usual bank of whimpering heroines, perhaps because the script by Smith and James Leicester (and reportedly more than a bit of work from Dwan) has Margaret Fowler shift between ex-fling Nardo (Milland) and husband Ben (Quinn).

The story is classic noir: a former thief with a million in cash tracks down an ex-lover, and has some fun offering cash to her new husband for safe passage through a mountain region into Mexico. Nardo is largely unaware Ben knows about his past romance with Margaret, and events during their journey cause alliances to shift, but rather than engage in hasty decisions and cheap emotional pivots, the conflict among the trio simmers as both men struggle with their emotions for a woman forced to join because her criminal past ensures she too may return to jail.

The lean body of characters and quick focus on just the primary three keeps the story tight, and Nardo’s cruel kills should make us hate him outright, but his own struggle with residual feelings for Margaret and an unusual finale transcend what could’ve been a straightforward villain. Ben also matures from a reticent husband to one not wholly infused with jealousy, but genuine sickness and remorse when he sees his wife in pain, and proves his devotion in a hasty operation.

The performances by the male leads are exceptionally good – they seemed to have realized they could have fun with their respective characters and seething conflicts. Dwan reportedly didn’t like Fox’s imposing Paget, but after a few silly scenes of domestic life in a shack, once Nardo appears, Margaret gets decent screen time, flowing from an unhappy marriage to the arms of an old fling, and later not knowing who to trust when each man seems more interested in the cash than her well-being.

Dwan’s early work stemmed back to D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), but part of the reason River’s Edge feels so strange are the moments of glaring technical faults which seem to exist due to lazy quality control. Ursini and Silver suggest the bad day-for-night cinematography and jarring edits in action scenes are due to the budget just not allowing for more time, and barely any stunt performers: a steer trampling Ben is never seen, and Nardo’s running over a highway patrolman and attempted mowing over Margaret are very weirdly shot & edited, and goosed with a truly strange engine wheezing.

Given the otherwise classic use of colours and fine compositions by Harold Lipstein (The Adventures of Hajji Baba, A Man Called Peter, and Pal Joey) and straightforward editing by co-writer James Leicester, maybe the technical and continuity flaws are tied to Bogeaus’ tight purse, and Dwan’s disliking of location shooting; the fight scenes in obvious studio sets are quite fluid, the script as a whole is sound, and the finale is quite unusual in having each character earn a small measure of redemption.

Louis Forbes’ score isn’t especially unique – the title song features ridiculous lyrics, and early scenes at Ben’s ranch seem to have stock ‘western’ tracks than an original cue – but there’s effective interpolations of the classic “You’ll Never Know,” which is the song that links Margaret and Ben’s otherwise destructive relationship. (Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features a mono music & effects track.)

The mono 2.0 track has a bit more depth than the original 1.0 mix, but it sounds like the faux re-channeled mixes which Fox passed off as “stereo” on their DVDs; in almost all cases, the “restored mono” mixes were overwhelming superior.

In her appreciative liner notes, Julie Kirgo lauds Dwan’s work in silent and sound films, and his versatility in genres, which may have had studios regard the veteran as stylistically inconsistent; there’s a worthy theory to test whether being hugely prolific with a massive filmography caused many skilled directors to remain trapped in B films because to major studio execs Volume +Fast Turnover = Hack. Dwan seemed to admit to Bogdanovich that he may have jumped the gun and signed too many contracts, but the challenge to make a decent film from cheap elements was a peculiar draw.

Allan Dwan’s films with Benedict Bogeaus including Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), Passion (1954), The Silver Lode (1954), Escape to Burma (1955), Pearl of the South Pacific (1955), Tennessee’s Partner (1955), Slightly Scarlet (1956), The River’s Edge (1957), Typee (1958), and The Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961), which also co-starred Paget, and was the last film for the producer.

At 76, Dwan retired from directing after 1961, perhaps due to Bogeaus trying to con the cast into believing they were making a TV pilot for lower pay. Debra Paget also appeared in Bogeaus’ problem-plagued From the Earth to the Moon (1958), which lost scenes and retained glaring contiguity blunders as studio RKO was in its death throes.

 

 

© 2019 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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