Bend of the River is a serviceable 1952 James Stewart Western. Directed by Anthony Mann, Stewart plays Glyn McLyntock, a remorseful ex border raider who is leading a band of settlers from Missouri to Oregon. Following a treacherous journey and a brief stop in the quiet town of Portland, the group reach their isolated destination but when their much needed supplies don’t arrive, McLyntock journeys back to the town to find it very changed. The film features themes of redemption, trust and romance and while it held me attention for its 91 minutes, it’s far from a classic and not quite as good as Mann and Stewart’s 1950 collaboration, Winchester ’73.
Many of the landscapes and sets become interchangeable and the film manages to deceive the viewer by switching between location and studio shots. The on location shooting is back dropped by beautiful vistas and unspoiled landscapes. This is certainly a good looking film and the beauty is exaggerated by the vibrant Technicolor. The costume design is also very good and I enjoyed the first visit to the tiny settlement of Portland, a mere dot on the map compared to the large city it has become. The difference between McLyntock’s first and second visit is also well done if not a little over done.
Jimmy Stewart is characteristically excellent in the central role, playing a soft, charming and joyful man with a dark past. His famous demeanour is perfectly suited to the role. He’s joined by Arthur Kennedy who shares some decent scenes with the star and enjoys some early chemistry. His duplicitous is well played by the five times Oscar nominated actor. Rock Hudson plays a handsome gambler who the audience can never be sure about and he also plays his character with an untrustworthy sensibility. Typically, he’s involved in the more romantic subplots. Julie Adams is the female lead but isn’t given much of a chance to shine behind her three male co-stars. She’s underused by the script. A further problem comes via the depiction of black characters. The three black actors on screen adopt wildly over the top caricatures and this dates the film terribly.
The actual story is quite mundane at times and the conclusion is never in doubt. When Jimmy Stewart is battling the save the lives of one hundred settlers, there’s only going to be one outcome. Along the way there are several set pieces during which a new foe emerges. These are sometimes predictably staged and over obvious though. Although sometimes predictable, the action was at least exhilarating. The film works and as I said at the outset, it passed some time. It’s not poor but it hardly breaks new ground. If I was channel hopping on a Sunday afternoon, I’d probably give it a second watch but it will be gathering dust on my DVD shelf for many years before it’s near the player again.
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