The River

1951, Movie, NR, 99 mins


Jean Renoir's first film in color, THE RIVER is an extraordinarily rich and almost therapeutically heartening movie about an English family living in Bengal. Part coming-of-age story, part empathetic travelogue, part philosophic poem, THE RIVER was cited by Renoir as "one film that corresponds almost exactly to my initial concept of it."

Harriet (Patricia Walters), a bright and sensitive adolescent, lives with her large family in a big house overlooking the Ganges River. One day, a handsome young American named Captain John (Thomas E. Breen) arrives at the home of his cousin, Mr. John (Arthur Shields), a widower who lives next door to Harriet's family. A somewhat mysterious and romantic figure who has lost a leg in the war, Captain John becomes the immediate object of new and unfamiliar longings in Harriet, in her only slightly older but considerably riper friend, Valery (Adrienne Corri), and, perhaps, in Mr. John's half-Indian daughter, Melanie (Radha Shri Ram), the least flighty of the three girls.

Before contracting to film THE RIVER, Renoir required producer Kenneth McEldowney, a Beverly Hills florist, to agree to four stipulations: (1) Renoir would be allowed to make a reconnaissance trip to India, all expenses paid; (2) he would write the script in collaboration with Rumer Godden, author of the source novel; (3) he would have final cut; and (4) the film would include no elephant hunt, a staple ingredient of English-language movies set in India. Rumer Godden's semiautobiographical script (co-written with Renoir) for THE RIVER is superb. The visuals of Renoir and crew fully live up to the words of Godden. Dense with documentary and aesthetic asides but, amazingly, never sidetracked by them, Renoir's "mural" movie blesses its viewers with a multitude of riches and bonuses, including a series of mini-travelogues spotted throughout. THE RIVER is further graced by the presence of its three young leading ladies: Radha Shri Ram, a precociously, hauntingly grave beauty recruited from the world of Hindu dance; Adrienne Corri, a robust, red-headed nymph; and Patricia Walters as Harriet, a homely girl who yearns to be "outstandingly beautiful" and becomes so in her last onscreen moments with Captain John.

Anyone who still believes in family sentiment, but is disheartened by Hollywood's characteristically mawkish and insincere treatment of it, is urged to immediately take a voyage on Renoir's river. leave a comment

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