Bushrod Gentry (Robert Taylor) is a frontiersman living in the budding territories of the midwest and working as a trapper.
One day he meets Mary (Eleanor Parker), an outdoorsy “tomboy” of a woman who has her very own gun and knows how to use it. She’s a bit of a tough gal, and she runs the risk of becoming a spinster… until she meets dear Bushrod, who she almost immediately decides must become her husband.
The one foil to Mary’s plan is that Bushrod is not at all interested in marrying her. He’s more interested in “taming” the natives and taking control of the land, and he has no desire to be tied down by a marriage. She’ll have to use all of her outdoors-y skills to trap him into it, just like she’d trap a raccoon.
Roy Rowland directs Many Rivers to Cross, a Western comedy of romantic pursuit gone wrong. The screenplay was written by Harry Brown and Guy Trosper, based on a story by Steve Frazee.
The film opens with a lively little song over the credits that sums up Bushrod’s attitude toward marriage: “The more you hug and kiss a gal, the more she wants to marry,” and marriage is comparable to prison in the mind of Bushrod Gentry. The song sets the tone for the “man vs. woman” battle that gets carried out throughout the rest of the film.
After the opening credits roll, there’s a title card dedicating the film to “the frontier women of America who helped men settle in the Kentucky wilderness.” In other words, while Gentry may not be happy about the prospect of marrying a frontierswoman, he couldn’t have settled the territory without her.
I got this film from the Warner Archive last March, figuring it’d be an exciting little adventure/rom-com. Warner’s widescreen release of the film is a bare-bones disc with no special features at all, but the visual quality is quite phenomenal. There are no technical glitches here, which is always a plus with DVD releases of lesser-known films.
With Many Rivers to Cross being a Western and one of its main characters being a fur trapper, I knew there’d probably be a few things here I’d take issue with, so I’ll get those complaints out of the way right out of the gate. Within the first few minutes of the film, stereotypical “savage” representations of Native Americans are tossed at the viewer.
Let us forget that trappers like Gentry took advantage of natives and exploited the environment — they’re heroes! What brave settlers they are! As a Midwesterner and a student of history, the development of territorial lands into the states we live in today is one of my favorite historical eras/topics to learn about, and it always bugs me to see the settlers portrayed as truly superior.
Though I don’t enjoy this film’s portrayal of the Shawnee, I tried my best to put that aside when judging the rest of the film. On the whole, Many Rivers to Cross is an enjoyable film.
The dynamic created by Parker so fervently pursuing Taylor, who rejects all of her advances and her family’s propositions, is a lot of fun to watch. There’s also a bit of good physical comedy here and some snappy dialogue, especially from the character of Mary. The film is no laugh-out-loud riot throughout its entire running time, but it does have some great moments of humor.
Taylor and Parker both give very solid leading performances and have very little trouble capturing the viewer. There’s also an outstanding supporting performance by Victor McLaglen as Mary’s father, Cadmus Cherne. Cadmus is a rugged, stubborn guy and Victor McLaglen plays the character very well, often stealing scenes from the central couple.
Fans of Westerns will enjoy the gun play and chick flick fans will enjoy the romance. Many Rivers to Cross has its problems, but it also has a lot to offer.
Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre?: NO – I enjoyed watching it in the end, but as a Western it included my biggest genre pet peeve: the “savage Indian” stereotype.
The score: 3/5