Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Monday, April 14, 2014

The James Stewart Blogathon: Bend of the River (1952)

An idea whose time has come!  This post is part of the James Stewart Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe.  You can view the complete blogathon schedule here.

The screen credit always read James Stewart, yet the people in the audience always called the actor "Jimmy".  Jimmy was like an old pal they had watched for years, first angling for his spot in Hollywood at MGM then speaking for what is good in all of us with his Oscar-nominated performance in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Then there was the war, where Jimmy the flyer was an instructor and flew combat missions in Europe, become a Colonel by the end.  When he retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1959 he was a brigadier general.  After the war, like other actors, and directors like Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life), Jimmy took control of his own career.

Jimmy Stewart's film career in the 1950s is a model of versatility and success that any actor would be proud to claim.  In 1950 he played Elwood P. Dowd in the screen version of Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey and found a role he could return to in future on the stage.  At the end of the decade he was Oscar-nominated for the Otto Preminger directed courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder.  In between there were three biographies, The Stratton Story and The Glenn Miller Story, both co-starring June Allyson and The Spirit of St. Louis.  His collaboration with Hitchcock which began with 1948s Rope, continued with Rear Window, Vertigo and The Man Who Knew Too Much.  There were thrillers, romance, dramas, and he even got to be a clown in The Greatest Show on Earth.  Best of all there were westerns.  Jimmy Stewart made eight films with director Anthony Mann and five of them are among the best westerns of the 1950s, Winchester '73, The Naked Spur, The Far Country, The Man from Laramie, and Bend of the River.

Bend of the River is my movie.  We all have one.  The movie we reach for when a cold is coming on.  Not the flu or anything major, but a cold that entitles you to pampering while foregoing a trip to the ER.  You snuggle on the couch under a mound of blankets with tissue at your side while obliging family members bring you classes of water, cups of soup and toast with the crusts cut off.  You watch the movie that comforts you right down to your fluffy slippers.  Life is good.

"How many bad guys have to bite the dust before you are comforted?"
- Janet Hall, concerned daughter

Screenwriter Bordon Chase had been working in Hollywood since his first novel Sand Hog was adapted for Raoul Walsh's 1935 film Under Pressure.  Mysteries, war pictures and westerns make up the bulk of Chase's work, with his westerns being true classics of the genre such as Red River, Man Without a Star, Winchester '73 and The Man from Colorado.  I find his best films to be emotionally epic, and this is how Bend of the River, adapted from William Gulick's novel Bend of the Snake, struck me when I first saw it over 40 years ago, and strikes me again on my many re-watches.

Julie Adams, James Stewart

Jimmy Stewart plays Glyn McLyntock, leader of a wagon train taking settlers to the Oregon territory.  Glyn has a past as a border raider during the Civil War, a past he wants to forget.  He's hoping to have a new beginning with these brave settlers, particularly with lovely Julie Adams playing Laura Baile.  On a scouting expedition Glyn saves the life of Emerson Cole played by Arthur Kennedy.  Cole has angered some vigilantes and he and Glyn recognize each other for the bad men they have been.  Cole is willing to string along with the wagon train until something better turns up or Laura Baile casts an eye in his direction.  Cole knows he owes Glyn, but his allegiance is strictly self-serving.

The settlers led by Jay C. Flippen as Jeremy Baile, father of Laura and younger sister Marjie played by Lori Nelson, are greeted warmly in Portland purchasing the supplies which will carry them through the winter.  Merchant Tom Hendricks played by Howard Petrie will see that the supplies are shipped in time.  The approaching winter causes concern when the supplies have not arrived as promised so Glyn and Jeremy return to Portland to check on their stock and on Laura.  Laura had been wounded in an Indian attack and had been recuperating in Portland.

Rock Hudson, Arthur Kennedy, James Stewart

The intervening months had seen a gold strike and the countryside was filling up with optimistic miners who needed supplies and were willing to pay much more than top dollar.  Hendricks is holding back the settler's necessaries for all the money he can get.  Meanwhile, Emerson Cole is running a gambler's paradise with Laura and with a handsome young gunman named Trey Wilson played by Rock Hudson.  This was a breakout role for Rock who proved himself an appealing screen personality.  Glyn hires some men at the dock to load the settler's goods on a paddle wheel run by Cap'n Mello played by Chubby Johnson and Adam played by Stepin Fetchit.  It is a messy situation and Glyn can't get away cleanly as they are followed up river by Hendricks and a gang.

Arthur Kennedy, Harry Morgan, Royal Dano

Glyn counts Cole and Trey as his partners in the dangerous enterprise, but the men who were basically shanghaied from the dock are not satisfied with the situation.  Jack Lambert, Harry Morgan and Royal Dano are among the crew who decide to turn on Glyn, hijack the goods and sell them to the miners.  As masterminds, they fall a little short of their scheme, but Emerson Cole is ahead of them and were it not for Laura's presence, Glyn would be dead.  Instead, he is left to die in the wilderness.

James Stewart as Glyn McLyntock

"You'll be seeing me. You'll be seeing me. Everytime you bed down for the night, you'll look back to the darkness and wonder if I'm there. And some night, I will be. You'll be seeing me!"

The twists and turns of Glyn's redemption make for riveting viewing.  Bend of the River was the second Jimmy Stewart-Anthony Mann western following Winchester '73.  It was filmed in gorgeous Technicolor by cinematographer Irving Glassberg and has an appropriate stirring score by six time Oscar nominee Hans Salter.  Location filming in Oregon lends a sense of the treachery of the land and of the people.  You can feel the crisp breeze, the mundane hazards of rocks and mud, and be awestruck by the vistas of rivers and mountains.

A perilous journey.

The story of Bend of the River is compelling and filled with action.  Glyn's search for a new life is heartbreakingly convincing in the hands of Jimmy Stewart, who was giving the public a look at the new post-war actor, a man of darker shades.  Arthur Kennedy is a charming skunk as Emerson Cole.  Whether he is playing a sweetheart or a villain, he is an actor that it is impossible to ignore.  

Chubby Johnson's long screen career in movies and on TV was just beginning.  Oldtimer J.C. Flippen still had some interesting roles to play, even into the 60s.  Until a couple of late life roles in the 70s in a Moms Mabley comedy and Won Ton Ton the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, this year would mark the end of the movie road for Stepin Fetchit.  His role in Bend of the River did not rely on much of the traditional comic schtick for which he is most remembered.  Rock Hudson staked his claim in the star lottery.  In future years, certain cast members would become famous for TV roles, Harry Morgan for December Bride, Pete and Gladys, Dragnet and M*A*S*H, and Frances Bavier for The Andy Griffith Show.  In the 1970s Julie Adams would play Jimmy Stewart's wife in The Jimmy Stewart Show, but for now it was 1952.  The 1950s, Jimmy's decade, was just beginning. 

41 comments:

  1. Great review. I love that shot of Glyn as he is left behind. You just know he will catch up.

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    1. The first time my daughter saw that scene, we had to watch it twice. It is a "wow" moment.

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  2. What a lovely post! I loved reading how "Bend of the River" is your comfort film when you don't feel well. I especially enjoyed Julie Adams' turn here. "Bend" brings home the serious hardships endured by pioneers, especially the harsh winters. Not receiving supplies could easily result in loss of life. The cinematography is beautiful under Mann's direction and aided spectacularly by Technicolor. Best of all is James Stewart who must overcome human obstacles and does so well.

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    1. Stewart really makes you feel his desperation, to survive and to find acceptance. He's really impressive.

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  3. My favorite of the Stewart-Mann westerns too, though I love them all. This one leads the pack with WINCHESTER 73 coming in second by the merest of hairs. I think the presence of Julia Adams here is what puts it over. Otherwise, bad guys played in Dan Duryea or Arthur Kennedy in BEND? Impossible to decide between the two and I don't want to even try.

    Love that "You'll Be Seeing Me" pull quote. Great stuff. The 1950s was a terrific decade for westerns and BEND OF THE RIVER is right at the top. Excellent write-up, CW.

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    1. Thanks, Kevin.

      The 50s were a stellar decade indeed for westerns. Some of the best work behind and on the screen from some of Hollywood's greatest talents.

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  4. Try not to hate me, m'dear. My brother and I are possibly the only two people on the planet who are not terribly fond of James Stewart on screen. (Never saw him on stage so can't say.) I've always found his 'aw shucks' persona a bit odd - perhaps because I was brought up on the lower east side and had trouble understanding his style.

    But having said that, I did like Stewart's performance in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and REAR WINDOW. But I'm afraid that's about it.

    Still, I enjoyed reading your post. I'm always eager to understand a different point of view. Well, most of time. :)

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    1. I hear you, Yvette. I like to read what draws others to things that I simply don't get. Sometimes I relent a tiny bit, but most times I'm a stubborn cuss. Comes from watching too many westerns!

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  5. Paddy, whether you call him Jimmy or James, our Blogathon star James Stewart is always a riveting present in any milieu. While I haven't had a chance to watch BEND OF THE RIVER , I like many of these actors, including Julie Adams, and since I was riveted by WINCHESTER '73 some time ago, you've got me making a date with the TiVo next time it's on TCM! Heck, you had me at: "You'll Be Seeing Me!" :-)

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    1. I'd wager actual money that you'll enjoy "Bend of the River", Dorian. You could save it up for a sick day.

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    2. Paddy, that's a swell idea at that! By the way, I've been meaning to tell you that yesterday, I finally got to give LURED my undivided attention after having seen it in bits and pieces, and I really enjoyed it! Lucy was terrific, and she looked lovely. Boris Karloff practically stole the show as the mad dress designer! Thanks for the tip, my friend! :-D

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    3. My pleasure. I only wish Lucy and George Zucco had worked together again. They could have gone on solving mysteries for years.

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  6. I am a big admirer of the Anthony Mann/James Stewart westerns. Not a bad one in the bunch. The 1950's was a great period for the adult western and these collaborations were right in the middle of it all. Definitely, a darker James Stewart we get to see in all these films. ! love the idea of pampering yourself with this film. I think I feel some sniffles coming on and this sounds like a great way to heal thyself! Thanks for a great tribute here!

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    1. Thanks. Some look to musicals or comedies to get them out of a funk, but it's the wide open spaces and the life and death dilemmas that do it for me.

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  7. Wow, your endurance to leap from one blogathon to another is impressive. I love this: "Bend of the River is my movie. We all have one. The movie we reach for when a cold is coming on. Not the flu or anything major, but a cold that entitles you to pampering while foregoing a trip to the ER. You snuggle on the couch under a mound of blankets with tissue at your side while obliging family members bring you classes of water, cups of soup and toast with the crusts cut off. You watch the movie that comforts you right down to your fluffy slippers. Life is good."

    I'll think of you next time I see it.

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    1. Now I have a mental image of tiny classic movie bloggers leaping from laptop to laptop with nary a stumble. Ha.

      What's your movie, Jacqueline? The one next to the box of tissues with aloe?

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    2. Well, you can't do any better than BEND OF THE RIVER for a "fluffy slipper" movie (have you trademarked that?). I love--and own--all of the James Stewart-Anthony Mann Westerns. BEND OF THE RIVER is my second favorite (after THE FAR COUNTRY). The themes of redemption and family are woven throughout the film and Stewart, looking world-weary at the outset, gives one of his best performances. The contrast between BEND OF THE RIVER and DESTRY RIDES AGAIN is amazing--both excellent Westerns but Stewart is so different in each. And, of course, I always enjoy the Anthony Mann "repertory" players: Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, and even Rock Hudson. This was a fine review of a terrific Western!

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    3. I appreciate the compliment, Rick.

      I'm not really a fickle sort of person, but my favourite Mann-Stewart western always seems to be the one most recently watched. Each offers us so much, every time.

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  8. I've seen this one! When I wrote about it, I found I was drawn to the idea of redemption - whether or not the bad stuff Stewart's character has done can be canceled out by an act of goodness. It's the kind of material that fits well with the Western genre as a whole, I think. I also wrote that we didn't really see enough of Jimbo as a badass, which he kinda is, I suppose. But yeah, I liked it too.

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    1. The thing about Glyn is that he doesn't just think about changing his ways, he physically and emotionally sets about doing the thing. I like that instead of bemoaning his fate, he takes control with no guarantee of success.

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  9. I do love those Anthony Mann Westerns with Stewart in the lead, although I think I'd go with THE MAN FROM LARAMIE as my favorite (if only because of the Shakespearean overtones). Thanks for reminding us what makes this one great!

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    1. I totally understand "The Man from Laramie" being a favourite. Those "Shakespearean overtones" are compelling. My mind always fills out the back story of Aline MacMahon and Donald Crisp. That's a prequel I would have loved to see.

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  10. "What's your movie, Jacqueline? The one next to the box of tissues with aloe?"

    I wrote a 1-act once where a woman's comfort movie was THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. Though it's my go-to movie in many ways, I have to confess to being a bit fickle. Like most of us film fans, I know what will trigger personal emotions and turn around my moods from a medicine chest of movies, and I can pick the right one at the right time. I have been known to stagger home from an awful day muttering, with the guttural, trance-like, leaden stomp demeanor of the Frankenstein monster "Must....have...SHANE."

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    1. Ah, yes. George Stevens' beauty.

      "Shane" was my selection when Janet and I played the "what if you were a TCM guest fan programmer. She chose "A Big Hand for the Little Lady" - a surprising, but interesting choice.

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  11. Julie almost drowned in the river. Recent interview...

    http://www.news-sentinel.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140217/ENT/302179995/1018/ENTERTAIN

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    1. Thanks for that interview/article. Julie Adams is a real doll.

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  12. I have only seen one of those Anthony Mann films you mentioned---The Naked Spur, which I wanted to watch for Robert Ryan. This one has not yet crossed my path, but I can assure you, it will. Besides Jimmy, I quite like Arthur Kennedy.

    Actually much of Jimmy's Western filmography has not yet crossed my path. Slowly but surely, though, I am rectifying that.


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    1. "The Naked Spur" is a dandy. It's almost too beautiful to look at!

      My first thought when I think of Jimmy Stewart is his westerns. Yet when I showed my youngest sister "Winchester '73" her reaction was "Jimmy Stewart in a western?!" It's a funny old world.

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  13. A great write up about a Stewart movie I've never seen! Have to find it and now!! Also, what a great cast behind Stewart.

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    1. You're in luck. TCM is going to show "Bend of the River" on Thursday, June 5th at 11:45 pm as part of Rock Hudson as Star of the Month. Whoo-hoo!

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  14. What a great write-up on another great Stewart performance! Love these Mann westerns. It's been along time since I've seen this one so I'll have to check it out on June 5th!

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    1. We should never deny ourselves the pleasures of a Mann-Stewart western. Dog-gone-it, I'm not even going to wait until the next time I have a cold.

      It's an excellent choice for TCM to showcase Rock Hudson's appealing young talent.

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  15. Thanks for reminding me about this movie, I haven't seen it in a while! Jimmy and the cast are superb, but for me it's the landscape that makes it. Perhaps it's because I've always lived in London, but there's something incredibly romantic (even if it rather bleak!) about the landscape; the rugged-ness of the rocks and the crispness of the blue sky. Think I might have to give this a re-watch over Easter!

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    1. I'm a city girl as well, and those immense locations hold a great draw. A feast for the eyes and the spirit.

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  16. yes for woman caftan is the best
    http://takchita-caftan.blogspot.com

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  17. As always, a wonderful, compelling post. You love of westerns in getting to me, CW, and Ihe list of "must see" Stewart westerns in piling up. Guess I better giddy-up!

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    1. Ho-ho. I'm turning you to the dark side!

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  18. I'm glad you mentioned Jimmy's versatility, which is one of the things I respect most about him as an actor and something he's not always given credit for. Overall I'm not a big fan of westerns so I haven't watched many, and I've been told I'm missing out on some of his best movies. Thanks to your great descriptions of this film, I think I'll give it a try.

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    1. I think you would find many westerns to your liking. It is a genre where some great directors, writing, composers, cinematographers and actors did a lot of very fine work.

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  19. Westerns are a genre that looks great either in black and white or color. And Jimmy looks great in both, too. Bend of th River is a very fine movie, I love the climax. And Rock Hudson as a supporting character! At least he was not playing an Indian ;)
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/04/ouro-do-ceu-pot-ogold-1941.html

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    1. It is a very exciting movie, as well as being very well acted. Jimmy was riding high.

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