Showing posts with label Marilyn Monroe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marilyn Monroe. Show all posts

Monday, July 31, 2017

On the Making of River of No Return (1954)

Tommy Rettig and Robert Mitchum in River of No Return (1954)

River of No Return (1954) was supposed to be a small picture; a simple B Western shot on the cheap in Idaho with a small cast and a skeleton crew. Writer Louis Lantz had the idea of taking Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief and turning it into a Western. Producer Stanley Rubin worked with Lantz and writer Frank Fenton on developing the story for Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. Production was moving forward until Zanuck decided to up the ante and add Fox's biggest star Marilyn Monroe to the mix. Everything had to be brought up a notch. Robert Mitchum and Rory Calhoun were added to the cast as was child actor Tommy Rettig. It would be shot in color with Cinemascope, a new technology Fox had invested a lot of money in. And Otto Preminger, who was under contract to the studio, would be directing the film whether he liked it or not.

Preminger was an interesting choice for the film. He had enjoyed some artistic freedom and independence with previous projects. In this case the script was ready to go when Preminger got on board. Producer Stanley Rubin didn't like Zanuck's choice of director. According to Preminger biography Chris Fujiwara, Stanley Rubin said "I thought of River of No Return as a piece of Americana, and I thought it needed a director who had worked in that area, which Preminger had not done... I was thinking of somebody like Raoul Walsh."

The production moved from Idaho up into Canada. The film got an upgrade with on-location shooting in Jasper and Banff, Alberta. There were the Banff Springs, Bow River, Lake Louise and the Rocky Mountains. This region of the world is simply stunning as anyone who's ever been there, myself included, will tell you.

The setting was perfect for visuals but treacherous for filming. Monroe, Mitchum and Rettig had stunt doubles and stand-ins. Three of the stunt actors almost lost their lives on the Bow River during the shooting of the escape scene on a raft. Monroe injured her leg on set and had to take it easy at the Banff Springs Hotel. Her publicist made a big spectacle of the event. Monroe was photographed around Banff limping around with a wrapped ankle. Her soon-to-be husband Joe DiMaggio came to visit. (Check out this collection of photos from the shoot.) Monroe's good friend Shelley Winters claims Monroe faked the whole thing. Producer Stanley Rubin claims the injury was real but that it might have been exaggerated.

Stanley Rubin, Marilyn Monroe, Otto Preminger and the crew on the set of River of No Return (1954)

The cast of characters Zanuck threw together proved to be a volatile mix. Otto Preminger and Robert Mitchum butted heads on their previous film together Angel Face (1952). Mitchum joked that he thought Preminger was a funny guy and a great producer but "not a very good director". According to producer Stanley Rubin, Mitchum played it cool but behind-the-scenes did a lot of digging into the production and was invested in making the film turn out well. Preminger and Monroe clashed almost instantly. He was an overbearing director and Monroe was sensitive to this sort of treatment. Her acting coach Natasha Lytess proved to be a thorn in the side of the cast and crew. Her coaching style included teaching Monroe how to over-enunciate her words. When Monroe put this into practice it drove Preminger mad. Lytess convinced Tommy Rettig that he'd reached the age when child actors lose their natural talents. The otherwise self-assured and prepared Rettig was now a blubbering mess and couldn't remember his lines. Preminger had enough and barred Lytess. Zanuck had to step in because without Lytess there was no Monroe and with no Monroe there would be no big box office draw. Everyone would just have to put up with each other.

Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum on the set of River of No Return (1954)
Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum on the set of River of No Return (1954)

Let's quickly dispel the myth that Mitchum and Monroe did not get along while making this film. This couldn't be further from the truth. Mitchum took pity on Monroe and tried to help her on more than one occasion. Mitchum biographer Lee Server says, "Monroe's peccadilloes seemed never to bother Mitchum. He thought she was an essentially sweet and funny but often sad and confused person." He enjoyed her "sly humor". After filming Monroe said to the press, "Mitch is one of the most interesting, fascinating men I have ever known."

The cast was quite a draw for locals. Lee Server says, "a special train brought the cast and Preminger the eighty miles were from Calgary to Banff, a publicized event that brought out curious ogling Canadians all along the route." Due to the province's liquor laws, the only place for the actors to drink was the Banff Springs Hotel. Mitchum especially spent most of his free time there.

Marilyn Monroe, Tommy Rettig and Robert Mitchum get hosed in preparation for their studio scenes. River of No Return (1954)

The crew returned to Los Angeles to film the remaining scenes at the studio. According to Lee Server, this is "where Mitchum and Monroe would do their white-water rafting indoors on a hydraulic platform in front of a giant process screen, while men stood to the sides and splashed them with buckets of water and shot steel-headed arrows into the solid oak logs at their feet." At one point Otto Preminger abandoned the project and left for Europe. Director Jean Negulescu was recruited to pick up where Preminger left off. He did not receive a credit for his work.

River of No Return was a box office hit and earned Fox $2 million in profits. Zanuck was right. Marilyn Monroe was the film's biggest draw and the reason for it's success. The reason why River of No Return has enjoyed decades worth of screenings, home video releases, interviews, discussions and even Tumblr fandom is mostly because of Marilyn Monroe. If another actress had starred in the film it might have been another Western relegated to the vaults.

August 6th is the 100th anniversary of Robert Mitchum's birth. River of No Return is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. TCM will be screening this movie as part of the Marilyn Monroe day for their Summer Under the Stars series starting tomorrow.

Robert Mitchum: Baby I Don't Care by Lee Server
Robert Mitchum: In His Own Words edited by Jerry Roberts
The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger by Chris Fujiwara
Leonard Maltin's interview with Stanley Rubin, TCM Classic Film Festival 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Leonard Maltin interviews Stanley Rubin at the screening of River of No Return (1954)

Press Photo

On Friday April 26th, 2013, Carlos and I attended a special screening of River of No Return (1954) at the Chinese Multiplex in Hollywood. You can see both of us in the photograph above (note TCM marked this photo as being a shot of the audience of Voyage to Italy but it was indeed River of No Return. Neither of us went to the Voyage to Italy screening and I even remember those 3 young adults in the row in front of us recording something for a video podcast at the River of No Return screening).

This experience was probably the most emotional one for me during my time at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Every time I revisit this I get really emotional. Here is what I wrote in my Recap post for that day:

River of No Return (1954) is the second Robert Mitchum film I ever saw with Out of the Past (1947) being the first. And as most of you know, Robert Mitchum is my favorite actor. I have always been a fan of Marilyn Monroe too and have seen almost all of her films. Also, I've been to the river in the film. The movie was shot on the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada and I have very happy memories visiting the river and the Rocky Mountain town Jasper which is situated alongside the river. River of No Return isn't a perfect film but it's one I have loved for as long as I have been a classic film fan. It has a special place in my heart and to see the producer of the film up on stage talking about the movie, sharing his stories and talking about Mitchum and Monroe was truly an honor.  Not only that, Rubin stayed to watch the film with us. 
Then it hit me. This is truly amazing. Truly fucking amazing. And then the tears just flowed. Wow.

We had to leave this screening early to attend another event which was some distance aways. This bothered me immensely. I feel like I didn't get closure with this experience because I didn't see it all the way through. While the following event was great, I don't think it was worth leaving this one early to go to that one. Carlos had never seen the film before and even though I had, I think it would have been best for both of us to had stayed through the whole thing. I felt so bad, that when I got home from the festival I immediately purchased the Blu-Ray of the film so we can watch it at home together (I had a bad DVD copy of it so I felt upgrading was worth it). If I go to the festival again, I want to make sure never to leave anything before it ends. It's just not worth it.

Before the screening, Leonard Maltin interviewed River of No Return's producer Stanley Rubin and Rubin's wife, actress Kathleen Hughes.

Press Photo

I will do my best to transcribe the interview. It's not word-for-word and I use a lot of paraphrasing.

Leonard Maltin asked the audience how many of them had seen River of No Return (1954) on the big screen. Very few hands went up. I had never seen it before on the big screen, just the little one.

Maltin: Stanley Rubin started as a screenwriter in the 1940s and worked his way up the ladder. He was promoted from screenwriter to producer in the early 1950s. River of No Return was his biggest assignment to date. Rubin was accompanied by his wife Kathleen Hughes. Folks might recognize Hughes from It Came From Outer Space (1953). You can date the marriage of Rubin and Hughes from this film (they've been married since 1954).

While Rubin and Hughes are making their way to the stage, he notes that Hughes' image is very iconic and linked to 1950s Sci-Fi genre.

Press Photo

Rubin notes that he's incapable of remembering to speak into the microphone. His wife and Maltin help him several times during the interview.

Maltin: Maltin hadn't seen Rubin in a while and noted that it was nice to meet up with a fellow college graduate and let's Rubin explain.

Rubin: Rubin entered UCLA in 1933 and got his degree in 2005. He had other business to accomplish in between but he was very happy to go back. Rubin had very dear memories of UCLA where he was the editor of the Daily Bruin.

Maltin: Maltin asks Hughes about her first date with Rubin.

Hughes: They were both under contract for Fox. Rubin kept asking her out and she kept turning him down for months and months. Then one day he invited her to have dinner with him and see a print of The River of No Return. She thought that sounded like a picture that she would enjoy. So they went to dinner and to the screening, Hughes enjoyed the movie very much. Then two months later they were married. (awww)

Rubin: He's glad that relationship still exists.

Maltin: At this point he notes they can date their relationship to River of No Return and that's very special. (I agree!)

Maltin: Maltin notes that Rubin had already produced a couple of pictures before River of No Return, including The Narrow Margin (1952) which was also being screened at the festival. River of No Return was a much bigger picture though than Rubin had tackled before. There were challenges. Rubin was off on location in Canada, with a large crew, a rather imperious director Otto Preminger, a strong-willed leading man Robert Mitchum and a sometimes difficult leading lady Marilyn Monroe. He asks Rub, what were your biggest challenges?

Rubin: Preminger and Monroe didn't hit it off very well. Monroe took that as an open door to establish a relationship with Rubin. That helped Rubin a great deal because they became really good friends. Rubin clarifies that Monroe and he were good friends not Preminger and him.

Maltin: Did you lock horns with Otto Preminger?

Rubin: Not really. They got along. Preminger was a diplomat from the word "go".

Maltin: What was the toughest sequence to get on film?

Rubin: The toughest sequence was getting Monroe onto the raft. Because the first day she tried she slipped on a rock and fell into the river. Despite all the help that they had there, they had safety boats, safety swimmers, but Monroe still slipped right off the rock into the fast-flowing river. (Interjection: The Athabasca River is no measly little stream. It is one strong river and you don't want to mess with it!). That accident taught them a big lesson instantly.

Maltin: Did you manage to proceed on time and on schedule? Did things get held up at all?

Rubin: Rubin jokes - Because Marilyn fell into the river? (Audiences laughs at this point.) Rubin doesn't want to dissemble or make things seem rosier than it was. They worked very hard and sometimes they would slip off of schedule. But in the end they made it up and they were on schedule.

Maltin: Maltin notes that they were far away from the studio 20th Century Fox and the boss Darryl F. Zanuck when filming. Did the studio keep a close eye on what was going on?

Rubin: No, there was a grace period and they took advantage of it. Zanuck was a surprisingly friendly and good-natured and accommodating boss.

Maltin: Zanuck definitely understood story-telling.

Rubin: Yes he did and had a long background in it. Even before he became the head of the studio. And that background was at Warner Bros.

Maltin: People are fascinated all these years laters with Marilyn Monroe. How would you describe her?

Rubin: They became good friends because of Monroe's issues with Preminger. Rubin and Monroe became very warm and very friendly. Rubin had turned down Monroe before. She had come in on an audition, a year or two before River of No Return. Rubin was nervous on meeting her for this movie because he turned her down the first time they met. He remembers wondering how friendly she would be after being rejected by him or whether she would bring up what happened before. But she never did. She was a perfect lady.

Hughes: Hughes reminds Rubin that he turned Monroe down because he didn't think she had enough experience. But it was just a couple of years later, that Rubin was begging Zanuck for Monroe to be in one of their films.

Rubin: Rubin says, what a difference a couple of years make!

Maltin: Robert Mitchum liked to give the impression that he didn't really care that much about acting and that it was just a job. That seems to have not been the case because he was a very dedicated professional. How would Rubin assess that?

Rubin: Rubin agrees with Maltin. Mitchum cared a great deal but hid that because that wouldn't keep him cool. Rubin found out later that Mitchum had done a lot of questioning and probing about what was going on behind the scenes of the film to see how good the preparation was. Mitchum was totally dedicated on everything he did to conceal the fact that he wanted it to go well.

Maltin: Did Mitchum and Monroe hit it off okay?

Rubin: They became very good friends. But that was it. A very pleasant, good, cool relationship.

Maltin: That makes for a great team to make a great movie. And now we get to see the results.

Rubin: Rubin said he hopes everyone likes it.

Maltin: Maltin asked Rubin if he'll stay to watch it again.

Rubin: Rubin said yes and remarked that he hadn't seen it in years and was very interested in seeing it again.

Press Photo

Out of all the interviewers at the festival, I have to say I think Leonard Maltin was my favorite. Osborne  and Mankiewicz were great too but I think Maltin asked the best questions that solicited really great responses. Stanley Rubin was struggling to remember things and Maltin was very patient and asked a lot of good questions which helped move along the interview. Maltin was very gentle with Rubin and I think that helped quite a bit.

This is by far my favorite out of all the screenings at the festival just because of the emotional connection I have with the movie and how grateful I was to have the chance to hear Stanley Rubin talk about it. It was a great experience and River of No Return (1954) will now forever hold a special place in my heart.

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