Bend of the River [1952]

Director: Anthony Mann
Stars: James Stewart, Rock Hudson, Julia Adams, Arthur Kennedy
Genre: Action, Adventure, Western
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 92 minutes

Besides being a terrific movie in its own right--and the second entry in a remarkable eight-film series teaming director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart--Bend of the River is also fascinating as a variation on one of the greatest Westerns. With or without anyone else's knowledge, screenwriter Borden Chase reworked scenes, character configurations, and much of the structure of Red River, the screenplay of which he had cowritten (from his own novel) for director Howard Hawks six years earlier. Seeing what Hawks and Mann did with some of the same scenes--a spooky night skirmish with Indians, for instance--makes for a compelling lesson in the transformative power of directorial style. Instead of Texas and the Chisholm Trail, Bend of the River is set in the Oregon river country, with a wagon train substituting for an epic cattle drive. Wagonmaster Stewart, a man with a secret past he's determined to redeem, rescues another, not-so-ex-renegade (Arthur Kennedy) from a lynching. Stewart finds Kennedy a powerful ally in a fight but ultimately has to face him as a mortal enemy--and to revert to his old savage ways in order to save his adopted community. Along the trail, they are variously companioned and/or menaced by the likes of slick gambler Rock Hudson (compare the Cherry Valance part in Red River) and hard cases Harry (then Henry) Morgan, Royal Dano, and Jack Lambert. There's knockout scenery, as usual with Mann, and fight-to-the-death action as bracing as a plunge into an icy river. --Richard T. Jameson

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