Bend Of The River (1952)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1952.  .  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by Bernard Herzbrun, .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .

A community of settlers are making their way to their promised land in nineteenth century Oregon, their wagon trail guided by James Stewart as a former marauder who is trying to go straight.  He oversees a deal with a supplier in Portland to have the community’s winter provisions sent up in time for the cold months, but when they don’t come, Stewart makes his way to the big city to find that the goods are being held hostage by a ruthless capitalist who is taking advantage of these people’s needs.

Joining up with another morally dubious but decent brigand (Arthur Kennedy), Stewart takes these items and heads back to the people who need it, but now has the ruthless businessman and his cronies on his tail, and when a town of gold miners offer them a great deal of money for the stuff, also has to deal with his crew’s greed.

This notable western from the strong hand of director Anthony Mann was among the first to take Stewart down a darker path than the one he’d been walking, leaving behind aw-shucks roles like Harvey and heading towards his brilliant work in Vertigo, here fully convincing as a man who is quick and sharp with a rifle despite his lanky frame.

A very young and dewy Rock Hudson threatens to steal focus (and, reportedly, did steal a great deal of the audience’s attention, much to Stewart’s chagrin), but his contribution is purely aesthetic and he has nothing near the depth that the two stars provide (nor does he try).  The film’s seemingly simple plot actually is a clever Trojan horse, as Mann places so many convoluted American themes into a straightforward chase narrative, beginning with the erasure of the country’s indigenous population, continuing through the rise of capitalist greed and concluding with senseless, constant violence.

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