One of the oddest choices for Fox' Studio Classics line is Allan Dwan's nutty CinemaScope noir, The River's Edge - essentially a B-movie, dolled up in colour and 'scope, after the studio decided to broaden its use of the widescreen process to lesser productions as a means to draw suburbanites from their TV sets.
River's Edge has no Oscar Nominations (or any awards), although Anthony Quinn had just won his own golden statue for his work in Lust for Life, and co-star Ray Milland earned one years earlier for The Lost Weekend. Paget was fresh from The Ten Commandments (perhaps her ultimate whimpering role), and had struck gold with Elvis in the classic Love Me Tender , both made the year before.
Based on a novel by Harold Jacob Smith (later screenwriter of The Defiant Ones, in 1958) and adapted by longtime film editor James Leicester, the film's prestige appearance on DVD may well be due to its cult status as an intriguing and sometimes very absurd love triangle, and as one of the last works of the hugely prolific Dwan, who directed more than 300 films.
Fox re-invited historians James Ursini and Alain Silver from their noir series, and the duo provide a light discussion on the film's production, and more importantly, on Dwan's career as a filmmaker, who began working for D.W. Griffith in the teens of the 20th century. Regarded as a lesser-known auteur, most of Dwan's work is still unavailable on DVD, although like River's Edge, it got regular play on TV.
After circulating for years in beat-up TV prints, it's a major boost to see the film in its lovely composed 'scope ratio - something that clearly didn't frighten Dwan, as with some veteran directors who struggled with wider rectangular compositions. Leicester's editing is still clunky in spots - the commentators point out some serious gaffes that may be the result of there being no time for any re-shoots, like some unlikely day-for-night footage for the film's bizarrely choreographed roadside murder - but cinematographer Harold Lipstein exploits the rich colours of the desert, striking mountains, and Debra Paget's thighs.
Often having to settle for whimpering female roles, Paget got a chance to play with a better character here, sporting a dark past with snotty and murderous Milland, but she's still just eye candy for the men in the film and audience (she debuts in short-shorts, and Dwan doesn't shy from exploiting her voluptuous assets, as the commentators heartily explain).
Ursini and Silver chart Quinn's progression from a lovesick, masochistic wimp to sensitive he-man, but the actor's studly posing bubbles with potent machismo, and the film's tension really comes from the lies and sexual anguish between a woman with murky devotions, and the men who clearly like messing with each other's fears of potential double-crossing, and flaunting their conquest when Paget moves from one man to another, offering hugs, kisses, and a little cuddling.
While not an out-and-out classic (ahem) like John Ford's How Green Was My Valley, the studio seems to be opening up the Studio Classics line for notable and lesser-known gems, and noir fans will enjoy the oddities of this wonky film.
Fox' transfer is first-rate, and while a single layer disc, the fairly short flick looks gorgeous. Partly larded with Fox contract players and contractual obligations, the Benedict Bogeaus production was distributed by Fox, but like the TV print, it lacks the studio's opening logo and fanfare. (As was becoming de rigueur at the time, the film sports a ridiculous theme song by the film's composer, Louis Forbes, and Bobby Troup, although the topper for benevolent kitsch is still Fox' British production, Sea Wife, also from 1957, which has David Whitfield screaming "Sea Wife! Some-where I'll Find You!")
Dwan later re-teamed with editor/writer Leicester with another Bogeaus-produced project Enchanted Island, and Paget costarred in the producer's film version of From the Earth to the Moon (both 1958) - among the last films made for dying studio, RKO. Paget also appeared in Bogeaus' Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961), which was also scored by Forbes, and became Dwan's swan song before retiring at the age of 76.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan