Sunday, July 15, 2018

Where the River Bends

Another of my recent DVD purchases was a six-DVD James Stewart western collection. First up out of that set is Bend of the River.

James Stewart plays Glyn McLyntock, who is leading a group of settlers west to new farmland in the Oregon side of the Columbia River. While looking for the trail ahead, Glyn comes across a group of vigilantes hanging a man for stealing a horse, and is able to prevent them from carrying out the hanging. The man whose life was saved, Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy), is grateful, and as the two head back to the settlers, it's revealed that both of them had pasts as border raiders somwhere along the Missouri/Kansas border. (The movie implies that the action was taking place before statehood, which would place it before 1859. I would have thought the border raiders were from the "Bloody Kansas" slavery dispute in the mid-to-late 1850s, but the plot implies both McLyntock and Cole were both real criminals escaping west.)

After some more difficulties with the Shoshone Indians, the settlers make it to Portland, from where they're going to go upriver to get to the land they're homesteading. While in Portland, McLyntock and the leader of the settlers, Jeremy Baile (Jay C. Flippen), contract to have a bunch of supplies delivered to the settlement in early September. This is important because winter comes early, and while they're building the houses and clearing the land, they're going to need foor for the first winter. The settlers head on up the Columbia, while Cole stays behind along with Jeremy's daughter Laura (Julie Adams), who had to stay in Portland to recuperate from getting an arrow near the collarbone in that Indian attack.

Time passes at the settlement, and no supplies come. Eventually it's October, and the womenfolk point out that they're almost out of the stuff they brought west with them, so they damn well better get those supplies soon. McLyntock and Jeremy head out to Portland to see what happened. What happened is that there's been a gold rush, and with all the miners wanting supplies, the man who was provisioning them, Hendricks (Howard Petrie), was able to bump up the price. This even though the settlers had a contract. The law has obviously broken down, what with no statehood. The settlers' supplies are on the dock in Portland, unshipped because Hendricks won't let anybody ship them anywhere. Also in Portland, they run into Laura, who's working as a gold assayer and engaged to Cole.

Jeremy and McLyntock decide that they're going to take the supplies that they already paid for and load them on the boat. In the ensuing scuffle, Cole and Laura also have to flee, along with professional gambler Trey (Rock Hudson). They're on the steamboat, pursued by Hendricks and his men, which means that McLyntock is going to have to disembark everybody well before the normal point and then go overland the rest of the way. McLyntock also has a couple of town drunks on board whom he hired to load the goods, and they given a choice would be just as happy to see the stuff go to the gold camp since they'd rather be miners themselves. And whose side is Cole on, anyway. As Cole reminds McLyntock, once Jeremy finds out about their pasts, he and the settlers are going to reject both of them.

Bend of the River is a very well-made western, one of a bunch that Stewart made with director Anthony Mann. These were from the more "adult" era of westerns when there wasn't just the preternaturally good guy and the over-the-top villain, but men who had rather murkier psychological motivations doing what they did. Stewart is excellent as a man trying to go straight; that time he spent in World War II gave him a much darker edge in his post-war movies. Kennedy was an antagonist in a whole bunch of movies, pulling it off well enough to get multiple Supporting Actor Oscar nominations. Bend of the River isn't one of the nominated roles, but he still does a great job. Rock Hudson has little to do, and Flippen gets a much bigger role than anything else I've seen him in. The cinematography is lovely.

Curiously, the DVD says that the movie has been formatted to fit the TV screen. I was pretty certain before watching that this was made before the advent of Cinemascope in 1953, and sure enough, the copyright says 1951 (although the actual release was in January 1952). At any rate, the movie was pillarboxed on my aging HDTV, which is as it should be. Each movie is on its own DVD in a slim case; the slim cases don't bother me but may bother some others. The only extra on this DVD was the theatrical trailer, but for the low price what can one expect? Overall, I can highly recommend both Bend of the River. Sadly the box set I got it on is out of stuck, but the TCM Shop has the same six movies available on a box set that has two movies per disc.

No comments: