Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bend of the River review

Bend of the River (1952)
Dir. Anthony Mann
Starring: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Rock Hudson, 

While escorting a wagon train of settlers through thr west Glyn McLyntock (Stewart) stops a group of vigilantes from hanging Cole Emerson (Kennedy) for stealing a horse. Cole joins the group and aids Glyn after a merchant refuses to give the settlers the goods that they rightfully paid for.

The film opens pretty simply, with a wagon train traveling across the country to establish a new settlement. James Stewart is Glyn McLyntock, a man with a questionable past that is escorting a wagon train as it travels to establish a new settlement. After saving Cole Emerson from a band of vigilantes that are about to hang him for stealing a horse, Cole joins the group and the two begin to bond pretty quickly, after both men recognize each other's name and the reputation that goes along with it. The film is interesting in how it presents the characters of Glyn McLyntock and Emerson Cole. Both are former raiders that seem to want more out of life. Each recognizes the others name, so you’re lead to believe that they are pretty well known for the evil acts that they had done prior to the beginning of the story. And after they met they quickly bond and seem to form a friendship, which is typical for the genre, but their actions in the back half in film pull the rug out from under you and changes course, presenting them to be polar opposites. McLyntock wants to move on live a simple life as a farmer, and comes across as a bit scared of what he is capable of and how easy it would be to slip back into his own ways. But Cole is more of an opportunist, wanting to take the easy way and one that is most profitable for him. McLyntock faces a lot of opposition while escorting the goods back to the settlement, from Hendricks and his men that want their merchandise back, to Cole and some of the reluctant workers that they have helping move the cargo across the land that want to take the goods and sell it to a closer settlement. But his story is a great example of how doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing to do, and this puts him and Cole at odds, as greed gets the better of Cole and he agrees with the mutinous men. This leads to the central conflict of the film and makes it a lot more interesting than it seemed at the beginning. Jay C. Flippen plays Jeremy Baile, the leader of the settlers, and at one point he likens Cole to being like a bad apple, which would need to be thrown out as to not spoil the entire barrel. Overhearing this causes Glyn to fear how the settlers would react to his past misdeeds, but the film shows that people can be forgiving of your past actions if they believe and see you making an effort to change.

James Stewart is good in the role, playing a weary man that wants to live a quiet, peaceful life after years of wrong doing, and Arthur Kennedy is great in the role of Cole Emerson, doing a charismatic villian role that he played in many other films. But the film works because the two actors have good screen chemistry together. You enjoy the scenes where they are friends in the first half of the picture, but in the back half when they are on opposing sides you care more because you've seen these two in better circumstances. It also helps that the movie is well scripted by Red River writer Borden Chase, and filled with good and interesting actors in the supporting roles. Rock Hudson is in a supporting role, but his part is not real big and mostly him being handsome and inexperienced in the ways of violence of the times. Add in actors like Harry Morgan and Francis Bavier in supporting roles and it makes it an interesting watch, and it even has possibly the most polarizing African American actor of the early days of Hollywood, Stepin Fetchit, in a role that surprisingly doesn't come across as bad as I thought it would when I saw his name in the credits. Granted it is a small role.

I would recommend this film. All of the Stewart/Mann collaborations* are worth checking out, but this film is interesting due to the relationship between the two leads. The film is fun and entertaining, while still giving you interesting things to think about thematically.

* Jimmy Stewart seemed to have good luck when it came to directors. His earlier films with Frank Capra where good, and then the string of movies in the 1950s that he made with Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock are probably his best in terms of quality and the most interesting thematically.

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