Two men with questionable pasts, Glyn McLyntock and his friend Cole, lead a wagon-train load of homesteaders from Missouri to the Oregon territory...
Biscuits, apples and the troubled past.
The second of five genre defining Westerns that director Anthony Mann made with James Stewart, Bend Of The River was the first one to be made in colour. The slick screenplay is written by Borden Chase, adapted from William Gulick's novel "Bend Of The Snake," with support for Stewart coming from Arthur Kennedy, Julie Adams, Rock Hudson & Jay C. Flippen.
Stewart plays guide Glyn McLyntock who in 1847 is leading a wagon - train of homesteaders from troubled Missouri to the Oregon Territory. What the group are hoping for is a new start, a paradise, with McLyntock himself hoping for a new identity to escape his own troubled past. Unfortunately, after rescuing Emerson Cole (Kennedy) from a lynching, it's an act that once McLyntock and the group get to Portland turns out to have far reaching consequences.
In typical Anthony Mann style, McLyntock is a man tested to the maximum as he seeks to throw off his shackles and find a new redemption within a peaceful community. Cloaked in what would be become Mann's trademark stunning vistas (cinematography courtesy of Irving Glassberg), Bend Of The River is often thought of as the lighter tale from the Stewart/Mann partnership. This is most likely because it has more action and no little amount of comedy in the mix, yet although it's a simple story in essence, it is however given a hard boiled and psychological edge by the makers. An edge that asks searching questions of the "hero" in waiting. Can "McLyntock" indeed escape his past? And as a "hero" is it OK to use violence when he is wronged? This is potent stuff that is acted with tremendous gravitas by Stewart.
One of the main plus points on offer is that of having a strong cast operating within. It's thrilling for a Western fan to see Stewart and Kenendy side by side, particularly as the screenplay provides them much opportunities for machismo play. There's also a surprise in store, further allowing two fine actors of their era to solidify the film's credentials. Flippen is a reassuring presence, overseeing things like a genre uncle, Hudson rocks up for some dandy dude duties who joins in the gun play, and Adams (here billed as Julia Adams) is beautifully vivid under Glassberg's colour lenses.
Bend of the River is very much a recommended picture, as in fact are the other four films on the Mann/Stewart CV. 7.5/10
Universal International Pictures by Anthony Mann, Borden Chase, William Gulick.
Stars: James Stewart, Rock Hudson, Arthur Kennedy, Julie Adams.
Genres: Action, Adventure, Romance, Western
Keywords: oregon, usa settler missouri wagon train
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