The River’s Edge (Blu-ray)

May 9, 2019 8 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

Film noir is one of my favorite genres. I get a thrill watching the old films with their shaky allegiances, femme fatales, and tough dialogue. I love the literature of noir and my wife and I even named our youngest son Dashiell after the author Dashiell Hammett. Two distribution labels have been at the forefront of bringing classic noir films to the Blu-ray format -Twilight Time and WB Archive Collection. Twilight Time has released numerous classic noirs including The Big Heat and Kiss of Death. Their most recent noir release, The River’s Edge, is unique as a noir film because it largely takes place outdoors and in sunny locales. This is the type of dusty noir that would come back to prominence with films like A History of Violence and U-Turn in the Nineties. It is also a “color” noir filmed in CinemaScope and colored in Deluxe. I watched the film this weekend.

A stranger (Ray Milland) arrives in a pink Cadillac at a gas station looking for Ben Cameron and his city girl redhead wife. Ben (Anthony Quinn) arrives back at his ranch and while attempting to brand a cow he is attacked by a bull. He shrugs off the attack but it worries his wife, Meg (Debra Paget.) Danger lurks in every corner of their place – scorpions in shoes, dangerous butane valves, and the darn oven. Ben married Meg and it got her out of nine years of parole in California. It’s Ben’s birthday and they get into a row. She is considering leaving him for good. That is when the man in the Cadillac shows up introducing himself as Mr. Denning. He wants a guide across the border into Mexico and he is willing to pay for it. Ben turns down the job, but he requests that Denning drive his wife into town. On the drive, Denning tells Meg that he missed her. She replies, “I missed you too, Nardo.” He has a million dollars in the back of the car, and he is willing to kill anything that gets in his path to make his way to safety in Mexico. To get across, he will need Ben Cameron to serve as his guide. He also plans to take Meg away from Ben.

The River’s Edge is a good tough noir film. Ray Milland is great as the sinister Denning who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Anthony Quinn is dependably good as Ben Cameron. Quinn looks the part of a rancher due to his strong physique. He plays the role well – a mixture of manly bravado and vulnerability. Debra Paget is well cast as the unsatisfied femme fatale Meg. She makes the material work by convincingly seeming torn between the two men. Interestingly enough, the commentary mentioned that Debra Paget was not the director’s first choice for the role.

The reason why The River’s Edge works is that it is relentlessly unsentimental. In one scene, an unsuspecting gold miner is shot to death by Denning when Denning’s money case pops open. This scene plays out ruthlessly and Ben doesn’t cry about the innocent blood being spilled. He mainly seems saddened and disgusted in a way that is much more natural. By allowing the actions of the characters to speak louder than words, the film achieves a cold realism.

Director Allan Dwan never lets up on the tension and the finale of the film is really interesting and surprising. This is definitely a sun-drenched noir that deserves to be rescued from the dust bin of time.

That said, the film is strangely misnamed The River’s Edge. If you are expecting the film to have any type of action involving a river, you will be disappointed. In fact -there is not a river that I recall seeing in the film. Maybe they should have considered calling it Border Crossing or Million Dollar Briefcase. Either of these titles would have made a lot more sense.

Video: How’s it look?

Twilight Time provided an excellent looking new transfer of the film from 20th Century Fox using an MPEG-4 AVC codec. The film was shot in CinemaScope with coloring by Deluxe. The transfer has excellent clarity and color reproduction. I did not see any signs of DNR and the print appeared to be in great shape. Like most of the work that I have seen recently from Fox, the film has been given a great looking transfer.

Audio: How’s it sound?

This DTS-HD MA 2.0 track has excellent fidelity to the original elements. The film has a score by Louis Forbes that is appropriate for the film if somewhat forgettable. This track does more than a good job at reproducing the original sound of the film with excellent clarity and no detectable hiss. For purists, a Mono track has also been included. I prefer the 2.0 track personally.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary -Film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini combine for a really well done commentary track that explores the history of director Allan Dwan amongst other subjects. They also discuss that Quinn did the picture for money and Debra Paget was basically forced on the director. A really interesting track!
  • Isolated Score and Effects Track
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Bottom Line

The River’s Edge is a brutally unsentimental day time noir. The central performances are all convincing with a standout performance from Ray Milland as the villainous Denning. Fans of film noir will want to add this to their collection, even if it is not as memorable as some of the earlier noir films or a Samuel Fuller “color” noir. The transfer provided from 20th Century Fox looks and sounds superb. Recommended.

Disc Scores