Late screen icon filmed movie in Canada at height of career
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
Marilyn Monroe was the personification of beauty, elegance, and grace. Since her tragic death on August 4, 1962 at the age of 36; her legacy has endured. She has been immortalized in art, films, fashion, music, books, and documentaries.
Notably, 67 years ago, at the height of her film career, Monroe made a trip to Canada in the summer of 1953 to film the Western movie, River of No Return. The film was shot on location in Banff and Jasper, Alberta.
The film focuses on a farmer named Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum), who has been released from prison and is united with his young son Mark (Tommy Rettig), and goal-driven saloon singer Kay Weston (Monroe). The Calder farm is later attacked by hostile Native Americans; Matt, Mark, and Kay escape—fleeing downriver on a raft with frequent rapids.
Importantly, the film’s focal point is the three characters learning to tolerate one another and working together to survive. Each person must be rid of anger, while demonstrating patience and understanding in caring for each other. Particularly, Kay begins to appreciate and admire Matt’s courage and heroism—especially the way he cares for both Mark and her.
The film continues with more challenges and conflict that entails a mountain lion attack, a run-in with gold prospectors, as well as a second battle with Native Americans. The movie ends with a romantic but cliché ending with Kay singing in a saloon, Matt entering the saloon, approaching Kay, and throwing her over his shoulder to take her back to his farm.
Remarkably, it is Monroe’s performance that stands out. She commands a strong screen presence with a subtle vulnerability throughout the film—while sustaining her natural beauty and elegance. As well, she demonstrated her versatility by singing four songs in the movie: “River of No Return,” “I’m Gonna File My Claim,” “One Silver Dollar,” and “Down in the Meadow.”
The movie opened with a world premiere in Denver on April 29, 1954. The film received mixed reviews. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised the movie: “It is a toss-up whether the scenery or the adornment of Marilyn Monroe is the feature of greater attraction in River of No Return[…] The mountainous scenery is spectacular, but so, in her own way, is Miss Monroe.”
However, Film4 was not at all impressed, stating, “The plot doesn’t convince, but Monroe, at the peak of her career, is more than easy on the eye […] despite some pretty locations and occasional tension, there’s little going on. A shallow river indeed.”