Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Review: "Bend of the River" (1952)

At the conclusion of "The Seven Samurai", the surviving members of the original seven look out over the farmers at work in the fields. The peasants can now continue their lives of planting and harvest. The samurai, on the other hand, have once again lost their purpose now that the bandits have been defeated. When Hollywood remade this film as "The Magnificent Seven", this bittersweet ending was exchanged with the victorious gunslingers riding into the sunset. Although they decided not to dwell on the reality of the gunslinger's existence, there would be other westerns that would.

Leave it to Jimmy Stewart to tackle the dark half. Having established his Capra feel-good credentials, he went on to explore more complicated characters in a series of westerns. "Bend of the River" was one of the first of these, and places Stewart in the Pacific Northwest leading settlers to a new territory. Along the way, he picks up a likeable stranger played by Arthur Kennedy. It's soon revealed that both men have dangerous pasts. One wishes to make that leap to farming and leave his past behind. The other doesn't seem able to, or maybe just doesn't much care to.

This is an exciting western with good acting, a good story and great cinematography. It's also nice to see a western that chooses a different part of the US besides the barren southwest for its setting. If there are any faults with it, it's in two of the characters. The first is Adam, played by the legendary, and infamous, Stepin Fetchit. The "massa" routine that he's now reviled for is more a distraction than anything else. Fortunately, his scenes are few. The other character that isn't given much more to do, yet gets near-top billing, is Trey played by Rock Hudson. Honestly, he doesn't do a lot in the story and he could have been taken out altogether and not hurt the movie much.

In the recognizable faces category, Harry Morgan, otherwise known as Col. Potter from "MASH", plays a failed miner. Morgan had a fruitful career in westerns long before "MASH" and even "Dragnet". He can also be spotted in "The Ox Bow Incident" and "High Noon", both highly recommended. Also, one of the chief settlers is played by Francis Bavier, known to most people as Aunt Bee from "The Andy Griffith Show".

Eight out of Ten

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