The five western films director Anthony Mann made with James Stewart in the 1950s rank among some of the best of the genre. The combination of Mann and Stewart was right up there with the teams of John Ford and John Wayne and Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott when it came to making superlative western films during that decade.
Mann and Stewart began their collaborations with WINCHESTER '73 (1950), followed by BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), THE NAKED SPUR (1953), THE FAR COUNTRY (1954) and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955). Mann, who helmed several classic films noir including T-MEN (1947), RAILROADED! (1947), HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), RAW DEAL (1948) and SIDE STREET (1950), brought some of that noir sensibility to his westerns. Even though they take place in the great outdoors instead of urban jungles, Mann's protagonists, as portrayed by Stewart in these films, are flawed, desperate men with dark secrets, haunted pasts and violent streaks that lurk just under the surface.
Such is the case in BEND OF THE RIVER which I watched for the second time yesterday afternoon. Stewart stars as Glyn McLyntock, a former border raider during the Civil War who is in charge of a small wagon train headed for Oregon. The members of the party are unaware of his past and he's seeking a measure of redemption by helping them out. He saves Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy) from a hanging and Cole later saves McLyntock from an Indian attack. Trouble is Cole was also a Missouri raider and knows the truth about McLyntock.
They party encounters many hardships and trials along the way but Stewart is always on the side of the angels, no matter how tempting it is to give in to his old ways. The supporting cast is superb and includes veteran character actor Jay C. Flippen as the leader of the wagon train, the gorgeous Julie (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) Adams as his daughter, Lori (REVENGE OF THE CREATURE) Nelson as her sister, Frances (Aunt Bee!) Bauvier, Harry (DRAGNET, M*A*S*H) Morgan and Rock Hudson as a riverboat gambler.
Filmed on location in Oregon in Sandy River, Mount Hood and Timberline, BEND OF THE RIVER features beautiful Technicolor cinematography by Irving Glassberg. The screenplay by Borden Chase (from a novel by Bill Gulick), is solid as is the score by Universal Studios maestro Hans J Salter. Everything is expertly orchestrated by director Mann. He keeps things moving at a brisk clip with well mounted action scenes and quieter dialogue scenes that thrum with buried tension.
I highly recommend BEND OF THE RIVER along with all of the other Mann-Stewart westerns. They're some of the best the genre has to offer.