Release Date(s)1957 (March 19, 2019)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
The River’s Edge (1957) is a neo-noir thriller made on a modest budget by veteran director Allan Dwan (Sands of Iwo Jima, The Restless Breed). Hunting guide and Korean War veteran Ben Cameron (Anthony Quinn, Viva Zapata, La Strada) and newlywed wife Meg (Debra Paget, Cry of the City) are struggling to make a go of Ben’s New Mexico ranch. Meg is a city girl who hates ranch life. Scorpions make their way into her slippers, the shower spews muddy water, and she has no social life.
Unexpectedly, her former flame Nardo Denning (Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend, Dial M for Murder) shows up. Denning has just made a big score, has a suitcase filled with ill-gotten cash, and wants to hire Ben to guide him into Mexico through the mountains to evade police and the Border Control. Meg still has affection for Denning, and their romance is rekindled.
Things, of course, do not go as planned. Denning commits two murders, making him even more desperate to get out of the country, and coerces Meg to go with him. Ben knows the territory but is facing Denning’s gun during the dangerous journey.
The film offers typical noir touches, especially the femme fatale. Meg, on probation for a bunko job, is the catalyst for enormous tension between Ben and Denning. Ben is crazy about Meg. Meg is attracted to all the money Denning is carrying and the fast life it can provide. Their trek bares all three characters’ dark and noble sides.
Milland, whose peak years as a leading man were waning, is paired with the much younger Paget. Their relationship is believable because he is still handsome and Meg much prefers big city excitement to her grubby ranch chores. Denning represents freedom from a bleak future of rough work and loneliness. His age is secondary to what he can provide.
Quinn, who usually played macho roles, portrays a simple man who is so crazy about Meg that he’ll do anything to keep her. Both men want her, which creates suspense as the upper hand on the journey through the mountains switches back and forth between Denning and Ben.
Though the script is fairly good, the film suffers from the miscasting of all three leads. Milland’s demeanor suggests the ultimate con man but he never convinces us that he is capable of murder. He’s suave in a drawing room comedy sense and doesn’t convey the killer instinct that Denning is supposed to possess.
Paget, a contract player at 20th Century Fox at the time, tries hard, especially in the early scenes on the ranch, but comes off too sweet, even with all of her complaining. She’s more like Debbie Reynolds in Tammy and the Bachelor than Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity – too much girl next door, not enough seductress.
Quinn, playing the cuckolded husband, is associated with more rugged roles, so it’s tough to accept that love would induce his character to get involved in crime. If the roles of Denning and Ben had been reversed, the film might have worked better.
The Region-Free Blu-ray release of the film, featuring 1080p High Definition resolution, is presented in the CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with color by Deluxe. Visual quality is sharp throughout, and location footage is blended effectively with studio sets. The color palette ranges from musty browns and yellows in the ranch scenes to lush greens in the mountain sequences. Denning’s pink Thunderbird conveys luxury and flamboyance. The opening credits are deeply saturated red, and Meg’s vivid red hair helps her stand out from her dull rural surroundings.
Audio options include English 2.0 and 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English subtitles are available for the deaf and hard of hearing. Sound is distinct throughout, with dialogue dominating. Sweetened sound effects enhance a crash, smashed fence, screeching car brakes, gun shots, and a falling boulder. A shallow river’s rippling water is nicely heard in a climactic scene.
The Unrated 87-minute Blu-ray is released as a Limited Edition of 3,000 units. Bonus materials include an audio commentary, an insert booklet, an isolated music and effects soundtrack, the theatrical trailer, and the Twilight Time catalogue.
Audio Commentary – Film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini discuss the film. Dwan started his career in 1911, worked with D.W. Griffith, and worked on approximately 300 films including silent classics, screwball comedies, westerns, and war films. His last ten pictures were made with producer Benedict Bogeaus, who was able to hire older actors with name recognition. By the time The River’s Edge was made, Ray Milland was playing character parts and directing. “His career was sputtering.” Director Alan Dwan wasn’t thrilled with Debra Paget because he felt she didn’t have enough of a temptress quality. Dwan, a veteran of the silent period, includes several long silent sequences in The River’s Edge. Made slightly outside the studio system, the film cost about one-third of what a typical studio film from that period would have cost. Because CinemaScope is not an intimate format, Dwan was not able to use close-ups and instead concentrated on simple compositions, with master and reaction shots. Because of advances in technology by 1957, Dwan was able to “use resources to color the performances in a way that only a movie can.” An overview of Milland’s career after The River’s Edge is provided.
Twilight Catalogue – Twilight Time Blu-ray releases from 2011 through 2019 are listed in a click-on menu.
Booklet – The 8-page insert booklet contains an essay by Julie Kirgo, 5 color photos, and a color reproduction of the film’s poster.
– Dennis Seuling