Marilyn Monroe gives Robert Mitchum a piece of her mind. Image: Western Double

Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on a film when it’s set in a stunning location.

We were mulling this over when we saw the western drama River of No Return (1954), starring Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, and the Canadian Rockies.

Mitchum and Monroe star as mismatched traveling companions who find themselves on a raft, navigating a ferocious mountain river to (A) escape angry men, and (B) seek justice.

This is an oversimplification of the plot, which also serves as a Redemption Story, because ex-con Mitchum has the Uncomfortable Task of telling his nine year-old son he killed a man. He also realizes Monroe, a provocative dance hall singer, is a woman of Strength and Principle, and (surprise!) he falls in love with her.

In some ways, River of No Return feels like a lengthy movie, even though it’s only 91 minutes. However, the river scenes are exciting – if you can pretend some of them aren’t done in a studio – and the premise is interesting enough.

You’ll notice, though, the two-sided interpretation of the “Possession is 9/10ths of the Law” rule. Mitchum’s character lives on a piece of land that’s Rightfully His because he cleared it; he can shoot anyone who Interferes. Yet, when someone appropriates his horse and gun, there’s Trouble.

Truthfully, we’re ambivalent towards this movie. We like it well enough, but we don’t love it. We’re distracted by the very scenery the script takes for granted.

The film is set in the Pacific Northwest so our view is, admittedly, unreasonable: We dislike that it doesn’t reflect our love of the Canadian Rockies.

Monroe gives a little concert. Image: Peculias Google One

Once upon a time, we lived in the Canadian Rockies. It has its inconveniences, such as rutting elk and heavy snowfall, but it’s also an incredibly sensory place. The way pine trees smell after a rain, or the way the wind makes a forest sound like the ocean.

In our opinion, the mountains never look the same morning to evening, especially when the alpenglow touches the peaks near the end of a summer’s day, or when the first rays of sunlight brush them pink on a sharp winter’s morning.

These are things of which a person never tires, and they’re difficult to put into a movie. Even so, with River of No Return, filmmakers have tried to showcase as much mountain beauty as possible.

Our pal, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, had trouble deciding who was more ravishing in this CinemaScope film – Monroe or the Rockies. “It is a toss-up whether the scenery or the adornment of Marilyn Monroe is the feature of greater attraction in River of No Return,” he wrote. “The mountainous scenery is spectacular, but so, in her own way, is Miss Monroe”¹

What bothers us is the story isn’t greatly influenced by this majestic setting. Frankly, it’s a melodrama that could take place on any river in any wilderness.

Our question is: How can these characters be in such an exquisite environment yet remain largely unaffected by its grandeur?

Fun and games on the studio tank. Image: DVD Beaver

River of No Return was a troubled production. Both Monroe and director Otto Preminger disliked the script, and each made significant career decisions as a result. Monroe refused to do westerns until The Misfits (1961), and Preminger bought out his studio contract for a reported $150,000.²

Monroe also sprained her ankle during filming, so some of the raft scenes had to be shot carefully to conceal her injury.

But she also became something of a sensation in the small Rocky Mountain town of Jasper, Alberta, where the crew spent three weeks. In this CTV interview, locals remember Monroe’s visit with fondness.

And here’s a random Fun Fact: According to IMDb, this was a first movie to use a blood squib when a character is shot with a rifle.

Many feel this is an underrated film that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. We do recommend River of No Return if you’re a Monroe or Mitchum (or Preminger) completest, or if you like Westerns.

Have you spent time in the Canadian (or American) Rockies? If so, how do you feel about this film?


• This post is dedicated to our pals at Monkey’s Tale, who have written about and photographed the Canadian Rockies with lyrical affection.
• This is a contribution to The SEEN ON THE SCREEN Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room.
¹Wikipedia. (Retrieved April 12, 2023.) River of No Return
²IMDb. (Retrieved April 12, 2023.) River of No Return: Trivia

River of No Return: starring Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun. Directed by Otto Preminger & Jean Negulesco. Written by Frank Fenton & Louis Lantz. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1954, Colour, 91 mins.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

35 Comment on “That Time Marilyn Monroe Went to the Canadian Rockies

  1. Pingback: The Seen On the Screen Blogathon Has Arrived – Taking Up Room

Start Singin', Mac!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: