Bend of the River Reviews
The script cleverly uses Kennedy, who is much less eager to reform than Stewart, to illustrate the kind of a man Jimmy must once have been, and the crueller side of his nature he is desperately fighting to suppress. The only real weakness here is Rock Hudson's character, a callow professional gambler standing at a crossroads between a virtuous or a wicked path in life (Stewart's or Kennedy's). I can see why he's in the picture but he's not really given anything to do, and you'll notice that Hudson is always conveniently out of the way whenever Stewart and Kennedy butt heads, presumably to defer his taking of a side for as long as possible.
Okay, I'm a sucker for James Stewart films. Now, normally I like him best out of the Western genre. (Although I dug him in all of the Westerns I've seen him in except for Firecreek and The Cheyenne Social Club, both of which I'll mark off as "pretty okay.") But this is a very different part than I'm used to seeing. Sure, he's still the pillar of morality, but there's a bit of fierceness to his character. He doesn't mind throwing a punch and takes advantage of any situation to do so. But there's a bit of conflict to his morality. Normally, he's the character that does no wrong. Look at his character in It's a Wonderful Life. He almost kills himself when something goes wrong and it really isn't his fault. Now he is this character fighting against a past that is very contrary to his new way of life. He is this very redemptive character who hides who he is and is afraid of anyone who may know anything about who he used to be. I love that because I do think that Stewart is this very complex actor who can handle things far deeper than what he normally gets.
Maybe I'm a guy who just hates betrayal in real life because I certainly dig betrayal stories in films. I just reviewed Ride the High Country a few minutes ago and that movie deals with betrayal as well. I have to say that this movie does it better. Maybe not better, but differently. Really, I love seeing the character who makes a different choice. Stewart and the antagonist are really the same person. Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Batman and Hush. That kind of story is really interesting. I love it when it hurts the protagonist to fight the antogonist. It's that mirror darkly effect and that is far better than any kind of well-choreographed fight sequence (which this movie also sports.) There's almost a fear to James Stewart's justice. He needs to redeem the situation to save his own soul.
Again, this movie is another morality play saying that gold and fortune destroys all men. Mann begins this movie with an extremely pleasant, God-fearing Portland and turns them all into money-grubbing maniacs the second gold is discovered up in them-thar hills. What I took for simple character development when it came to minor characters was far more planned than I could have ever imagined. While we see James Stewart's double change later in the movie into someone who was always somewhat corrupt, we see a good man steal money from Stewart and chase him down to get more money out of him. That's some creepy stuff. The entire town has gone to hell and a good man has led them there. What's even more bizarre is that as cruel and evil as that decision was for the owner of the bar, you can kind of understand his reasoning behind it. Even the betrayal kind of makes sense. These are reasons why people make poor decision and although you should disagree with their decisions, you can see them as somewhat sympathetic characters. Really, why are some people more deserving of food than others? The reason that the farmers get the food over the miners is that they had the good fortune to get there before the gold. Sure, the miners are selfish and greedy, but there's a desperation to survive that these people have. Yes, they will pay more and that almost makes it a bit worse for their cause, but they pay that money because they need those supplies oh-so-desperately.
The end is what really sells the movie for me. The titular scene is at the end and it is a heck of a fight. I actually somewhat don't believe that it would really work out that way, but you see the desperation of a greedy mob. There is a bloodlust to their eyes. Maybe that's what makes them sloppy and over-anxious (I'm trying to lie to myself regarding why they do so poorly) and they are almost like watching zombies in the old West. It's a very cool scene. But the real bravado of the scene comes from the final confrontation between Stewart and the antagonist. Now, when I think Westerns, I don't think "river fight." But this scene is just abolutely perfect. At one point, I honestly thought that both characters would meet their end. I won't go into details, but it does work out for the best, but I would have also applauded the death of both characters.
There's the really obvious message that I wish wasn't so blantant at the end of the movie, but if we wanted to have the romantic connection work out the way it was leading up to, I guess the movie kind of needed that line. But the rest of the movie proves oppostite from this mentality and shows that Stewart may eventually become what he fears most. While he is tested to the extreme in this movie, I don't think that the character is out of the woods and will probably have to deal with his more violent nature in the future. Regardless, I think the movie ends in a fine place and in a fairly optimistic place, so it's amazing that I'm pretty happy with it.
After all, we know what kind of cynical bastard I am.