Ben Cameron (Anthony Quinn) has recently married Meg (Debra Paget), a pretty redhead from the city, and brought her to live on his ranch in the Southwest.
Meg is having trouble adjusting to the rancher way of life and all of the danger that Ben’s work puts him in. She urges Ben to start working as a hunting guide like he used to in order to earn money. She threatens to leave him if he won’t go along with her wishes and says they never should’ve gotten married, but Ben is quick to remind her that she’d be in prison if she hadn’t married him.
Just as they’re in the middle of the argument, Nardo Denning (Ray Milland) comes a-knockin’ at the door of the ranch. Nardo used to be Meg’s right hand man in her criminal days. In order to keep himself out of jail, he double-crossed her, but she still loves him regardless.
Nardo has shown up under the guise of wanting to hire Ben to lead him through the desert, and Ben is completely unaware of Nardo’s past with Meg.
Allan Dwan directs 1957’s The River’s Edge, a film that blends western, romantic drama and crime. Based on Harold Jacob Smith’s story “The Highest Mountain,” the script was penned by Smith along with James Leicester. Director Allan Dwan holds a remarkable 400+ directing credits, including Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and Robin Hood (1922).
The River’s Edge is a somewhat campy film. From poorly-choreographed cow attacks to fake, plastic scorpions crawling into shoes, there’s a little bit of corn in the mix here amidst all of the crime and adventure.
Contributing to the camp factor is Debra Paget, at times. She has a tendency to take things a bit over-the-top, particularly in the beginning of the film. As she finds her footing, she seems to go for a “hard-boiled noir dame” characterization of Meg, which exaggerates the film’s genre-bending tendencies. It’s really a western in setting only. Much more attention is paid to romantic deception, murder and money.
As for Paget’s leading men, Quinn and Milland do pretty well with the material they’re given. Milland’s character is pure evil and manipulation, and he plays it well. Quinn’s character provides a nice counterpoint to Milland’s. Ben is sneaky in his own way, but a much more sympathetic character. His actions don’t seem motivated by hatred and anger like Nardo’s do.
Nardo brings on the film’s most shocking moments and twists, a couple of which are so nutty that I was literally left with my jaw dropped! Despite its flaws, the film is nothing if not gripping.
Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre?: NO – The film is entertaining, but to call it a Western (as Netflix does, which is why I selected it for this series) is highly misleading. It’s just a decent crime drama set in the desert.
The score: 3.5/5
You’re right, Lindsey…this sounds like nothing but a noir crime drama with a Western backdrop (and a tenuous one at that). And I love how Meg wants Ben to give up that most dangerous of professions, a rancher, to settle into the tame, easy life of a hunting guide! And if he doesn’t, she’ll leave him and move to…what, that cave on the other side of the barren plain?
If memory serves she was planning to head back to California and live in the city. But the cave’s a good option as well!